Your eyes can say more about your health than you may expect. With a comprehensive eye exam, your optometrist can detect early signs of eye disease, sometimes long before you notice the first symptom!
Your optometrist can even detect diabetes with an eye exam by examining the blood vessels at the back of the eye. This is a good thing since diabetes, whether type 1 or 2, could rapidly affect your vision. Fortunately, with your optometrist’s help, you can learn how to manage your vision and eye health.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects millions of people worldwide. In fact, over 11% of Americans have diabetes. It causes high levels of glucose in the blood since your body isn’t able to produce or use insulin effectively.
Symptoms of diabetes include:
- Increased thirst and urination
- Rapid and unexplained weight loss
- Slow-healing wounds
- Blurry vision
- Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
- Increased hunger
How Does Diabetes Affect the Eyes?
The old saying goes: the eyes are the windows to your soul. Well, they’re also the windows to your health. During a comprehensive eye exam, your optometrist will examine the various structures of your eyes, including the retina, blood vessels, and optic nerve.
The retina is a core part of these exams. It sits at the back of the eye and contains millions of light-sensitive cells, sending signals to the brain that give us a (hopefully) clear image. The retina is also one of the few parts of the body where blood vessels can be directly observed and evaluated. As a result, doctors can use it for a rare insight into your general health and look for signs of diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common eye disease caused by diabetes and affects how well your retina works.
When you have diabetes, your blood sugar levels fluctuate. It’s true everybody’s blood sugar levels change, but for people with diabetes, these fluctuations may be extreme. Over time high blood sugar levels could affect the small blood vessels in the retina, causing them to swell, leak, and bleed. You could even have new, abnormal blood vessels grow on the retina.
Sometimes, diabetic retinopathy has no apparent symptoms at first. Eventually, however, you may notice signs such as:
- Blurred vision
- An increase of floaters in your vision
- Colors appearing faded or dull
- Shadows or holes in your vision
- Trouble seeing at night
- Loss of central vision
- Vision loss
Diabetic retinopathy may lead to total vision loss if left untreated. During an eye exam, your optometrist can observe these changes in the retina and determine if they indicate diabetes.
Moreover, the severity of diabetic retinopathy can also reflect the level of blood sugar control in individuals with diabetes, making it a valuable tool for monitoring diabetes management.
Cataracts are a natural clouding of the eye’s lens that happens as we age. While it’s a normal part of aging, people with diabetes are much more likely to develop cataracts than those without diabetes. Not only that, they may develop cataracts at an earlier age.
Good blood sugar control may delay the development of cataracts. You could manage mild or moderate cataracts by changing your prescription, but as the lens gets cloudier, cataracts may eventually cause blindness. When this happens, a doctor may recommend surgery to restore your vision.
Glaucoma is an eye condition that occurs when the optic nerve that connects your eye to your brain is damaged. In most cases, this is due to fluid building up inside your eye, increasing intraocular pressure (IOP). High IOP could lead to eye pain, headaches, and irreversible vision loss.
Once again, people with diabetes are more likely to develop glaucoma than those without diabetes. Like diabetic retinopathy and cataracts, though, good blood sugar control is essential to help protect against glaucoma.
How is Diabetes Detected?
An eye exam is more than reading off charts and getting your prescription. Your optometrist has access to advanced diagnostic equipment and the know-how to put it to good use.
Depending on any other ocular symptoms, your optometrist may use any one of these techniques or tools to look for signs of diabetes or diabetic retinopathy:
Dilated Eye Exam
During a dilated eye exam, the optometrist will put eye drops in your eyes that widen the pupils. This allows the optometrist to see the back of your eyes and look for any abnormalities caused by diabetes.
Fundus photography is a non-invasive procedure where your optometrist takes detailed retina images. These images may show signs of diabetic retinopathy, such as microaneurysms, hemorrhages, and fluid leakage before it can progress.
Optical Coherence Tomography
Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) is an imaging device that uses light waves to get images of your retina’s blood vessels. OCT captures high-quality cross-sections, giving an angle of your retina that’s not visible with traditional methods.
Tonometry checks the pressure inside your eyes, a common sign of glaucoma. Since diabetic people are more likely to develop glaucoma, a tonometry exam is crucial during a routine eye check-up.
An Eye Exam for the Whole Body
Regular eye exams are essential for everyone — but are especially crucial for people with diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes have an eye exam at least once a year to detect any changes in the eyes early and prevent vision loss.
Pinnacle Eyecare offers diabetic eye exams designed to monitor for early signs of diabetic eye diseases. We will work with you to preserve your vision and ocular health, but the first step is up to you!
If you have diabetes or have a high risk of developing it, make us a part of your healthcare routine, and come see us for an eye exam!