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Diabetes and Eyesight

Diabetes is a disease that affects the way we process food for energy and growth. With all forms of diabetes—type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes—the body has trouble converting sugar in the blood into energy, resulting in a host of potential health problems.

Diabetes increases the likelihood that common diabetes-related vision problems or diseases might occur:

  • Diabetics are prone to developing cataracts (a clouding of the eye’s lens) at an earlier age.
  • People with diabetes are almost 50% more likely to develop glaucoma, an eye disorder that damages the optic nerve often marked by an increase of internal eye pressure.
  • Macular edema (and macular degeneration) are more common in diabetics due to malfunctioning blood vessels in the middle region of the retina responsible for central, sharp vision.
  • Most notably, diabetes can result in diabetic retinopathy; an eye disease that affects the blood vessels in the all-important retina. 1 milion Canadians diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy.

That’s why there’s no separating diabetes and vision. If you have diabetes, then you should understand vision problems that increase in likelihood as a result of the disease.

For people suffering from diabetes, an annual diabetic eye exam is usually done before going in for your annual medical examination. Your physician will want to have the results of your eye exam in hand when they do their own examination in order to see the complete picture of your overall health, thus it is normal for most diabetics to book their diabetic eye exam before their annual check-up. This usually means having an eye exam early in the year- from January to March.

A diabetic eye exam is a series of tests that are designed to screen for eye disease in general, and glaucoma and retinopathy in particular. While it has been customary to have an eye exam within 5 years of being diagnosed with diabetes, more recent research has suggested that it is important to have your first eye exam soon- with the first year after you are diagnosed with diabetes and you should make sure to have annual exams to monitor your condition and to ensure that treatment is started as soon as any trouble is detected.

Early detection and treatment can help to save your vision when you suffer from diabetes.

Diabetes Statistics

Over 3 million people in the Canada have diabetes, with an estimated additional 1 million people unaware they have a form of the disease. What’s more, an estimated 6 million Canadians have prediabetes, a condition that puts them at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

  • Since the retina is the light-sensitive region of the back of the eye responsible for processing visual images, diabetic retinopathy can affect your vision in mild, moderate or even severe ways.
  • If you have diabetes, you probably know that your body can't use or store sugar properly. When your blood sugar gets too high, it can damage the blood vessels in your eyes. This damage may lead to diabetic retinopathy. In fact, the longer someone has diabetes, the more likely they are to have retinopathy (damage to the retina) from the disease.
  • Changes in blood-sugar levels increase your risk of diabetic retinopathy, as does long-term diabetes.
  • According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, 95% of those with diabetic retinopathy can avoid substantial vision loss if they are treated in time.

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