Diabetes puts you at a greater risk for eye diseases like diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.
People living with diabetes should have their eyes examined annually to monitor for the development of eye diseases. Most eye diseases develop unnoticed until they have already caused permanent vision loss. Eye exams ensure you detect developing diseases proactively.
Diabetes can have a profound impact on your eyes, especially if you struggle managing your blood sugar levels. The Canadian Association of Optometrists (CAO) recommends annual diabetic eye exams for people living with diabetes, and Alberta Health provides annual financial coverage for these specific health exams as well.
Staying on top of your eye health is vital. It is the difference between many more years of great vision quality and the irreversible development of tunnel vision. As dramatic as it may sound, most eye diseases initially form without symptoms. For people with diabetes, the diabetic eye exam goes into more depth to check for signs of diseases like diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema (DME).
This exam uses dilation to provide greater insight into your retina; most patients prefer to bring a driver with them.
Annual Dilated Eye Exams Are Important
From start to finish, a diabetic eye exam takes under an hour to complete. Call to schedule your comprehensive dilated diabetic eye exam.
About Diabetic Retionpathy
Diabetic retinopathy is a serious eye disease that can lead to total blindness (in advanced stages). It has multiple stages, and initially develops without symptoms.
Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy:
- Mild nonproliferative retinopathy – Your vision is likely unaffected and there is no pain. Under examination, small balloon-like blood vessels on the retina are swollen and may leak fluid into the retina.
- Moderate nonproliferative retinopathy – Some blood vessels on the retina lose their ability to transport blood. This causes visible changes to the retina and contributes to the development of Diabetic Macular Edema.
- Severe nonproliferative retinopathy – The retina is now blood-starved due to many blood vessels being blocked. At this point, the blood vessels and surrounding areas secrete growth factors that will promote the growth of new blood vessels.
- Proliferative diabetic retinopathy – The final stage of retinopathy, new but weak blood vessels are growing to replace the ones that have died. Because of their weakness, these new blood vessels causes adhesions to develop with the vitreous ( a gel-like substance that helps the eye maintain a round shape), which can then contract and cause a detachment.
About Diabetic Macular Edema
Diabetic Macular Edema is the buildup of fluid on the retina. About half of all people with diabetic retinopathy will also develop Diabetic Macular Edema. Diabetic Macular Edema can form at any stage of retinopathy’s development, though is more likely to occur the in retinopathy’s advanced stages.
Diagnosing and Treating Diabetic Retinopathy and Diabetic Macular Edema
During an diabetic eye exam, several tests are performed that can be used to detect for retinopathy or Diabetic Macular Edema, including advanced retinal imaging and OCT imaging equipment. In a dilated diabetic eye exam, these tests are performed in addition to the eye being dilated for better viewing of the back of the eye.
- Treatments for diabetic macular edema – There are three main treatments for Diabetic Macular Edema. They may be used alone or as a combination.
- Anti-VEGF injection therapy – This therapy blocks a protein called endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Blocking VEGF can reverse blood vessel growth, decrease fluid on the retina, and decrease scar tissue formation. Treatment lasts for years, with treatment frequency decreasing over time.
- Focal/grid macular laser surgery – A fine laser is used to burn the retina where blood vessels are growing in areas of edema. This slows the leakage of fluid and reduces retinal swelling.
- Corticosteroids – Injected or topical corticosteroids can be used to treat Diabetic Macular Edema. However, long-term use has been linked to increased eye pressure (an indicator of glaucoma) and cataract development.
- Treating proliferative diabetic retinopathy – Panretinal photocoagulation can be used to shrink blood vessels. During this surgery, between 1,000 and 2,000 burns are made with a laser. This treatment can be effective for preserving central vision, but often it comes at the expense of peripheral and night vision.