We’ve often heard that diabetics need to get their eyes checked regularly, but why is that the case? What effect does diabetes have on the eyes? The truth of the matter is that diabetes, particularly uncontrolled diabetes, is one of the leading causes of acquired blindness. High blood sugar, which is the major consequence of diabetes, causes damage to supportive cells of the blood vessels called pericytes. When pericytes are damaged, blood vessels become weak and leaky. The retina, just like many structures in the body, has its own blood supply. Hence, it requires oxygen delivered from that blood to function correctly. When the retinal blood vessels become damaged and leaky, blood is no longer supplying the areas of the retina it is supposed too. When those areas start to lack oxygen, a whole host of problems develop, eventually leading to severe vision problems. Blood and fluid can also leak in the central portion of the retina, called the macula, which can also cause significant visual compromise.
One of the best ways diabetics can prevent severe diabetic retinopathy is to control their blood sugar and maintain regular visits to their physician. This also means regular trips to the eye doctor. For routine diabetic checks, it is essential that our patients are seen at least once a year. We may recommend more frequent visits if we start to see diabetic retinopathy. At each evaluation, we communicate with our patients’ physicians, so they are aware of the results of the examination. In many cases, managing diabetes is a team effort among a group of doctors all working hand in hand to provide the best care for patients.