Eleven million Canadians are living with diabetes or pre-diabetes, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association. While there are numerous complications associated with the disease, what diabetics might not know is that it can also have a serious impact on eye health.
“Diabetes gives rise to a number of eye-related issues, including cataracts, glaucoma and potential vision loss,” says Dr. Jaswinder Bains. “Anyone suffering from diabetes needs to take extra caution and make sure that they undergo a comprehensive eye examination with their optometrist at least once a year.”
Dr. Bains explains that diabetes can affect all blood vessels in the body, including those in the eye. A condition called diabetic retinopathy occurs when there is a weakening or swelling of the tiny blood vessels in the retina of the eye, resulting in blood leakage, the growth of new blood vessels and other changes. If diabetic retinopathy is left untreated, patients can go blind.
Several factors increase the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, including poorly controlled blood sugar levels, the length of time with diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, drinking alcohol and pregnancy.
Fortunately, there are ways to avoid and treat diabetic retinopathy, says Dr. Bains. Controlling blood sugar levels is the first step towards avoidance, so it is important to follow a physician's instructions around diet, exercise and medication.
Early detection is crucial to treating the condition before serious damage to the eye occurs. An optometrist can identify the signs of diabetic retinopathy through a comprehensive eye exam and prescribe appropriate treatment.
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