Diabetes is a common condition, with more than 30 million Americans having already been diagnosed with this metabolic disorder and another 84 million suspected to have prediabetes. It occurs when your body is unable to regulate your blood sugar levels, causing them to become too high. There are two main types of diabetes, with type 2 being the most common.
Type 1 is where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin, and patients who have type 1 diabetes will almost certainly have it for the duration of their lifetime and require constant medication to keep their levels steady.
Type 2 is where the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin, or the cells of the body don’t react to it. Type 2 diabetes is the variety most associated with obesity.
Prediabetes is where your blood sugar levels are higher than normal and higher than is considered optimal but are not yet high enough for you to be diagnosed with diabetes. Although being diagnosed with prediabetes doesn’t guarantee you will develop Type 2 diabetes, it is very likely, particularly if you don’t make any significant changes to your current lifestyle.
Diabetes can have a dramatic effect on your health and day to day life. However, many people don’t realize that it can also put your eyesight at risk as you are more likely to develop a serious ocular condition called diabetic retinopathy. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you will be asked to attend regular diabetic eye exams so that your eyes can be screened for diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that affects the eyes. It is caused by persistently high blood sugar levels damaging the blood vessels that keep the retina, which is the area of light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye, healthy. The retina plays a crucial role in our vision, as it is this that receives light that has been refracted through the idea. The retina then converts this light into signals that are sent up the optic nerve to the brain, which will tell us what we can see.
When the blood sugar levels of a patient are persistently high, it can cause the blood vessels serving the retina to swell up and leak fluid into the rear of the eye. In other instances, abnormal blood vessels will grow on the surface of the retina. Unless it is treated, diabetic retinopathy can seriously affect your vision and in some cases, lead to blindness.
A diabetic eye exam is a very straightforward process that will determine if you already have started to develop diabetic retinopathy, or if there are changes happening that suggest your risk of the condition is increasing. People with diabetes are recommended to be screened for diabetic retinopathy at least once every 12 to 18 months.
At the start of your diabetic eye screening, you will be asked a few basic questions about your general health, your diabetes (including any medications you take to control it) and if you have any concerns about your vision. We may also need a little background about your family medical history if we don’t have this already.
Next, we will move onto the eye exam element of your appointment. Firstly, we will place drops into your eyes to temporarily make your pupils larger. These may sting for a few seconds, but this will quickly pass. We will then take high-resolution, 3D images of the back of your eyes using a special camera. This allows us to visualize and assess the retina and the blood vessels serving it, so that we can see if there are any abnormalities or changes that are a cause for concern. If we have reason to believe that you have blood vessels that are swollen or blocked, we may follow this test with a fluorescein angiography which involves injecting a special dye into your bloodstream which will show us which blood vessels have blockages and which are leaking.
If you are found to have diabetic retinopathy, our team can then advise you on the best course of action to take to slow or stop the progression of your condition. This could involve making changes to your lifestyle and/or undergoing treatments including laser treatment or a minor surgical procedure called a vitrectomy.
If you suffer from diabetes and haven’t been offered a diabetic eye exam, it is essential that you seek one yourself as soon as possible, and our dedicated, expert team would be delighted to help. Call any of our Kentucky eye care centers to schedule your diabetic retinopathy screening appointment.