In the US, there are approximately 18 million adults that have been diagnosed with diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy is a condition directly linked to diabetes whereby the vessels in the delicate retina on the back of the eye can dilate and burst open and cause hemorrhages, scarring, and ultimately to vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy affects more than half of all adults that have been diagnosed with diabetes. Most significantly, diabetic retinopathy is the number one cause of blindness in the US.
To try to minimize this problem, physicians strongly recommend that all diabetics have a dilated eye exam at least once per year. In the early stages of retinopathy, the patient is not even aware of some of the early changes of dilated blood vessels. If these changes are observed through the annual dilated exam, we can make a difference by utilizing laser treatments to seal off minor dilated blood vessels before they become a major problem by breaking open and causing a hemorrhage. Surgical or laser treatment of retinopathy has improved tremendously in recent years, but naturally the best techniques of minimizing the problem is early diagnosis through annual eye exams, and optimal control of the diabetes.
Although diabetic retinopathy is the most significant side effect of diabetes, there are other eye issues that are also statistically more common in diabetes. Cataracts, the cloudiness of the natural crystalline lens, is more common in diabetes, particularly in diabetics that do not have good control of their diabetic status. When blood sugars fluctuate significantly, sugar actually gets absorbed into the natural crystalline lens, which can cause a change in focusing when the blood sugar level is out of control. If the blood sugars are repeatedly out of control for prolonged periods of time, the crystalline lens gets damaged because of the high sugar levels, and a cataract becomes evident. Fortunately, treatment of cataracts surgically is a very successful and routine procedure with excellent visual results.
In summary, the incidence of diabetes in the US seems to be increasing, but adhering to a routine of a dilated eye exam by an ophthalmologist is the most effective way of keeping the effects of any related eye problems to a minimum.