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Diabetes and Its Effects on the Eyes

Clip Number: 12 of 14
Presentation: Diabetes
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Reviewed By: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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Diabetes can affect many parts of the body, including your eyes. The most common problem is a condition called diabetic retinopathy.
Before we talk about diabetic retinopathy, it may help to understand the parts of the eye that are involved with sight. These structures include the cornea, iris, pupil, lens, and retina. Your cornea is a thin, clear layer on the outside of your eye. The iris, or the colored part of your eye, is a muscle that controls the amount of light going through your pupil, which is the round opening in the center of your eye. Behind the iris sits the lens.
The eye doesn't actually "see" objects. Instead, it sees the light that objects reflect. When this light enters your eye, the cornea and lens focus it directly onto your retina. The retina converts this light into an electrical signal that is then sent to the brain, where it is processed into the image that you see.
To make sure the eye stays healthy, many blood vessels bring oxygen and other nutrients to its different parts. This includes very tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina.
But with diabetic retinopathy, high levels of sugar in the blood can cause changes to the retina's blood vessels. In the early stages of the disease, it can make them swell and, in some cases, leak.
As the retinopathy worsens, these blood vessels can also become blocked. This means that parts of the retina are not getting enough of the oxygen and nutrients that they need. So the body makes new blood vessels to help. But the problem is these new blood vessels are fragile, which means that they can easily break and bleed.
If bleeding happens in front of the retina, it can prevent light from reaching it. This can cause problems, such as blurry vision or "floating "spots. And if left untreated, severe vision loss or even blindness may occur. In fact, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in people under the age of 65.
So what can you do to help decrease the chance of developing problems with your vision? There are three main things. The first is to keep your blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible.
Research studies have shown that people who control their blood sugar levels decrease their risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by up to 76 percent. But controlling blood sugar can do more than just prevent eye disease. Even those with eye damage can slow it down by controlling their blood sugar. Studies have shown that in people with some eye damage, keeping blood sugar levels under control can slow down the progression of retinopathy by up to 54 percent.
The second thing you can do is to see your eye doctor every year. He or she has special instruments that can see damage even when you don't have any symptoms.
Finally, if you have diabetes and you have ANY trouble with your vision, be sure to tell your eye doctor right away.

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