Can Eye Exams Detect Diabetes?
Diabetes cases are on the rise in the US. More than 28 million people have been diagnosed with the disease, while another 8.5 million are undiagnosed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Undiagnosed diabetes puts your health at risk, even if you haven't experienced any symptoms yet. Luckily, your optometrist can spot subtle eye changes that can indicate you have diabetes.
How Diabetes Affects Your Eyes
Diabetes doesn't change the way your eyes look from the outside, but does cause changes inside them. During an eye exam, your eye doctor looks for these diabetes signs:
- Swollen Lenses. High blood sugar may cause swelling in the clear lens inside your eye. Swelling changes the shape of the lens and affects the way light focuses on the retina at the back of the eye. Do have blurry vision that comes and goes? Your vision changes could be due to swollen lenses. Your vision improves as your blood sugar level drops and blurs again if it becomes too high.
- Optic Nerve Damage. People who have diabetes are twice as likely to develop glaucoma, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. Glaucoma is defined by damage to the optic nerve, the connection between your eye and your brain. Damage to the optic nerve can cause partial or temporary vision loss. During a comprehensive eye exam, your eye doctor uses drops that dilate your pupils. Dilated eye exams allow your optometrist to see the optic nerve and spot any damage or changes that could be caused by diabetes.
- Abnormal Blood Vessels. Your optometrist may see abnormal blood vessels in your retinas when your eyes are dilated. The condition, called diabetic retinopathy, affects one out of three of US adults with diabetes over 40, according to the CDC. Diabetic retinopathy causes blood vessels to leak fluid or blood, interfering with vision. New blood vessels may also form. Unfortunately, the new vessels are often weak or abnormal and may leak. Diabetic retinopathy can cause blurred vision, faded colors, blank spots, and blindness.
- Vitreous Hemorrhage. The vitreous is the clear gel-like substance that gives your eyeball its shape. A vitreous hemorrhage occurs when blood from leaking blood vessels enters the vitreous. Shadows cast by spots of blood create floaters, wispy, string-like objects that drift in front of your eyes from time to time. Although floaters normally aren't a sign of a serious problem, they can be a warning sign that you may have diabetes.
- Macular Swelling. High blood sugar levels can also cause problems for the macula, the middle part of the retina. The macula is responsible for good color and central vision. If your eye doctor notices that your macula is swollen, you may have diabetic macular edema. Fluid from leaking blood vessels in the retina causes macular edema. The condition may make colors look faded and cause blurry or double vision or dark spots in your vision.
- Cataracts. Cataracts could be another sign that you have diabetes. Although cataracts commonly occur with aging, they're yet another condition that affect people with diabetes more often. Cataracts occur when the lenses inside the eye become cloudy and yellow. According to the American Diabetes Association, high blood sugar levels can eventually cause changes to the structure of the lens. These changes may make cataracts form more quickly. Cataract symptoms include sensitivity to light and glare, faded colors, halos around lights, night vision problems, and blurry, cloudy, or double vision.
Early detection of diabetes helps you protect your vision and your health. Reduce your risk of diabetes complications with an annual visit with the eye doctor. Contact our office to schedule a comprehensive vision examination.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Diabetes Statistics Report, 6/29/2022
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Diabetic Retinopathy
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Diabetic Eye Disease, 5/2017
American Diabetes Association: Taking Charge of Your Diabetes and Eye Health
National Eye Institute: Diabetic Retinopathy, 7/8/2022