What is the relationship between diabetes and eye health

Eye health can be affected by diabetes, as excess glucose can eventually affect the macula. Dr. Figueroa, an ophthalmologist and retina expert, discusses diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetes is a natural disease that interferes with the pancreas’ natural ability to produce the insulin necessary for our body. This insulin is essential, as it is what allows us to control the sugar levels we have in our blood.

Diabetes-related eye diseases

Diabetes is a systemic disease whose prevalence has increased alarmingly in recent decades. Diabetic retinopathy is the condition of the retina caused by diabetes, and occurs as a consequence of the alteration of blood vessels and neurons.

Four out of ten diabetics suffer vision problems due to diabetic retinopathy, which is also the leading cause of blindness in Spain. Many of these cases could be avoided with early detection of the disease. In fact, this is the aim of the 2017 Year of the Retina, declared by the Spanish Government as an event of exceptional public interest, which seeks to raise awareness of the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of retinal diseases.

Risk factors in diabetes that affect eye health.

The main risk factor for the development of diabetic retinopathy is poor metabolic control, i.e. high blood sugar levels (glycemia). It is therefore very important that diabetics manage to maintain adequate blood glucose levels, especially during the first ten years after diagnosis of the disease. Other risk factors are high blood pressure, high lipid levels, being overweight or smoking.

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These alterations can be of varying severity, from minimal and not requiring treatment, to others that are treated with surgery. The most frequent cause of vision loss in diabetic patients is macular edema or accumulation of fluid in the macula (central part of the retina). Another complication that can appear in these patients is the appearance of neovessels or abnormal blood vessels, which can grow and cause retinal detachment or vitreous hemorrhage, which is the most frequent complication of diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetes prevention and management for eye health control

In order to treat lesions as soon as they appear and prevent vision loss, it is necessary to have regular retinal checks by a specialist. At present we have drugs that, when applied directly to the eye, stabilize and improve diabetic retinopathy (antiangiogenic drugs and corticosteroids). The main disadvantage of these treatments is the need for periodic check-ups and injections, and for this reason devices are being investigated that help to increase the time between treatments. Microincisional surgery also has an important role in the treatment of retinal complications due to diabetes with good results and improvements in vision.