Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetic Eye Disease
Diabetes mellitus (DM), more commonly known as diabetes, refers to a group of metabolic conditions in which there are elevated levels of sugar in the blood over an extended period of time. Diabetes is either due to the pancreas failing to make enough insulin for the body to use, or due to the cells of the body not properly utilizing the insulin produced.

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There are three main types of diabetes:

  • Type I DM is due to the pancreas not producing an adequate amount of insulin.
  • Type II DM begins with a condition called insulin resistance, in which cells are unable to respond to the presence of insulin properly. The main causes of Type II DM are excessive body weight, poor diet and lack of exercise.
  • Gestational diabetes occurs when high blood sugar levels occur in pregnant women with no previous history of the disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

The prolonged high blood sugar levels present in diabetes can lead to a number of conditions that comprise diabetic eye disease. All of these conditions have the capability to cause vision loss and blindness, and they include diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, cataract, and glaucoma.

  • Diabetic retinopathy occurs when high blood sugar levels cause damage to the blood vessels in the back of the eye, eventually leading to vision loss.
  • Diabetic macular edema is a result of diabetic retinopathy, and causes swelling in the macula, or the area of the retina responsible for central vision. Vision loss can occur to varying degrees depending on the amount of edema present.

Eye conditions related to diabetes can be detected through a comprehensive eye exam that includes the following tests:

  • Visual acuity testing – this is an objective assessment of the level of your vision
  • Tonometry – a test that measures the pressure inside the eye
  • Dilation of the pupils – enlarging the pupils allows for a better view and more complete assessment of the retina
  • Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) – this is a specialized scan that allows for a more detailed assessment of the optic nerve and macula

Early stage diabetic retinopathy typically does not require treatment, but more advanced versions of the disease may need laser treatment or the injection of medication into the eye. Cataracts can be removed surgically, and glaucoma exacerbated by diabetes is often treated with topical glaucoma medications and surgery if necessary.

  • The most important thing to do is to control your diabetes itself by taking medications as prescribed, engaging in regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy diet. Better control of the disease as a whole can delay or even prevent vision loss. 
  • A comprehensive eye examination with dilation of the pupils should be performed at least once per year, especially since diabetic retinopathy can often be undetected by the patient until loss of vision occurs. With regular eye assessments, the probability of early detection of diabetic eye disease increases dramatically. Early detection and treatment along with careful follow-up assessments can prevent or limit vision loss.

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