Asian Eye Institute retina and vitreous diseases specialist Dr. Patricia QuilendrinoBlurry vision, seeing black or clear strings floating across your field of vision, flashes of light, poor night vision, distorted vision, faded colors or loss of vision—these are the symptoms that people with uncontrolled diabetes are likely to experience.
According to Asian Eye Institute retina and vitreous diseases specialist Dr. Patricia Quilendrino, “having diabetes for years and having high and poorly controlled blood sugar puts you at risk of developing serious and potentially blinding eye diseases.”
Among the eye conditions that can develop are cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema.
Fogged up window
“Many people in their 60s get cataracts, but those with diabetes tend to develop them early and have them progress faster,” said Quilendrino. “With cataracts, the natural lens of the eye becomes clouded so it’s as if they are looking through a very dirty or fogged up window. But the good news is, cataracts can be removed through surgery. The natural lens is removed and replaced with an artificial lens.”
Glaucoma develops when pressure builds up in the eye. When it advances, it affects the optic nerve, which connects the eye and the brain.
Quilendrino explained: “The risk for glaucoma increases with age and how long one has had diabetes. This can lead to permanent blindness, so it is important to remain within the normal levels of eye pressure.”
Diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema are conditions that affect the retina.
“With these retinal conditions, the increased sugar in the blood blocks the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina. When this happens, blood supply in the retina decreases and causes the eye to attempt to grow new but weaker blood vessels. These blood vessels end up leaking fluid or blood into the retina,” noted Quilendrino.
Similar to glaucoma, damage caused by these retinal conditions is permanent and irreversible.
“What we are worried about is that these eye conditions usually have no early warning signs,” Quilendrino said. “So a lot of our patients only visit the clinic once their eye condition has advanced and we cannot do as much to save their vision. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to go blind.”
She added: “We have to remember that diabetes is a lifelong condition, which means we have to manage it to prevent further complications. Diabetics can take steps to protect their vision, such as shifting to a healthier lifestyle. They can quit smoking, exercise daily, eat healthy and monitor their blood sugar religiously. It is also crucial to get a comprehensive eye exam at least every six months.”
A comprehensive eye exam involves a series of tests to evaluate a patient’s overall eye condition. Aside from measuring the eye grade, a retina specialist will check the front and back parts of the eye and, if needed, measure the eye pressure and put in dilation drops.
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