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How Diabetes can affect your eyes and what you can do to avoid those complications

Posted: 8:58 AM, Nov 16, 2020
Updated: 2020-11-19 08:13:55-05

BALTIMORE — November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, and here at WMAR we want to make sure you know all the ins and outs of the disease and how it can affect different parts of your body.

One of the ways Diabetes can affect your body is through your eyes, and since there's no real warning signs before having eye issues, it's important to get your eyes checked regularly.

"Diabetes is a disease that affects the very small blood vessels in our body and it likes to affect the kidneys and the brain, but the eye is definitely a place where we have these very small blood vessels and it damages those vessels in a way that prevents them from bringing oxygen to the eye," said Dr. Katherine L. Duncan, ophthalmologist and lead provider for GBMC Health Partners Eye Center at Joppa Road.

Duncan says this can cause problems in the eye and swelling which can lead to permanent vision loss if not treated properly.

In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, there really aren't any symptoms, says Dr. Duncan. Diabetic Retinopathy is one of the most common forms of diabetic eye diseases and occurs when the diabetes starts to affect the retina. It causes these abnormal blood vessels to grow and to bleed and to cause swelling back there.

"You can have floaters in your vision and blurry vision, but usually that's a stage that's much, much more advanced and unfortunately harder for us to treat at that point," Dr. Duncan explained. "So it's really important, even if you're having no problems with your vision to come in once a year and just get checked, because if we can catch it at those early stages, we can prevent a lot of vision loss that way."

The doctor says this is more than just a normal vision test, you need to get your eyes dilated

She says that if they are able to detect it in those early stages, sometimes just getting your sugar under better control can reverse the changes. If there are more advanced findings however, they have other treatments such as laser therapy or medications injected into the eye.

Diabetes can also do some other things inside your eye, including cataracts forming earlier in life. Dr. Duncan says their diabetic patients tend to get cataract sooner and need cataract surgery at earlier ages.

"But fortunately that's a very fixable problem," she said. "And then there are some sort of less common forms of glaucoma, which is an eye disease where the pressure in your eye becomes too high and it causes damage that takes away your peripheral vision and it sort of slowly comes in. If your diabetes is very uncontrolled in your eye, it can create changes that induce that glaucoma."

In terms of the urgency of getting your eyes checked after a diabetes diagnosis, Dr. Duncan says it depends on the blood sugar levels.

"If you're first diagnosed and the blood sugars that they're measuring are very out of control and you're having vision problems, then you need to be seen immediately," she explained. "If you are diagnosed and your blood sugar levels are just right over normal, it's a little less urgent in that situation.

She does recommend that within the first few months getting a baseline check to make sure there's no issues.

A lot of patients, she says unfortunately don't know how long they've had diabetes when they're first diagnosed and the longer they've had it without treatment, the more likely they are to have changes in their eyes.

The best thing you can do to avoid eye complications with diabetes is to control your blood sugars.

"If you're right on the edge of having diabetes, you know, diet, exercise, all those things, your primary care doctor tells you to do, are good for your eyes too because the lower the blood sugars, the less likely, you're going to develop these eye problems."