Diabetes Awareness

Diabetes Awareness

Patient having finger pricked for blood sugar test

November is Diabetes Awareness Month. According to The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 34.2 million Americans-or 1 in 10-have diabetes, with the highest percentage of existing cases occurring in American Indian/Alaska Native populations. If not properly controlled, Diabetes can lead to kidney failure, amputation of the feet or legs, and blindness. In this blog, we’ll discuss how diabetes affects vision, and how to keep your eyes healthy. 

What is Diabetes

Diabetes is a condition that occurs when the body cannot regulate its own blood sugar levels. When you eat, the sugars in your food cause an increase in blood sugar. This signals your pancreas to produce insulin. Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to produce sufficient insulin, or can’t use the insulin it produces correctly. As a result, the sugar in your bloodstream cannot be broken down, leaving an excess of sugar in your body. This excess will eventually lead to serious health problems. 

Types of Diabetes

There are 3 types of diabetes:

Type 1:Type 1 Diabetes is usually diagnosed early, but can occur at any age. This type of Diabetes is caused when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. It is believed to be the result of an autoimmune response. 

Type 2: Type 2 Diabetes is the most common form of the condition, accounting for 90-95% of cases according to the CDC. This form occurs when cells become resistant to insulin, causing the pancreas to increase production until it can no longer keep up with sugar intake. Risk factors include:

  • Being overweight
  • Being Prediabetic
  • Having a family history of type 2 Diabetes
  • Having gestational Diabetes
  • Not getting enough physical activity

There is additional risk for those who are Alaska Native, African American, Hispanic/Latino American, and American Indian. 

Gestational: Gestational Diabetes occurs in women who are pregnant. It is a temporary condition that usually resolves after giving birth, but increases risk for Type 2 Diabetes later in life. 

Pre-Diabetes: Prediabetes occurs when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered Diabetic. According to the CDC, 1 in 3 Americans is prediabetic. 

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic Retinopathy is a condition in which the blood vessels of the retina become damaged by the excess sugar in the bloodstream. There are 2 types of Diabetic Retinopathy:

Non Proliferative: Non-proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (NPDR) occurs when the blood vessels of the retina begin to weaken, causing them to swell and leak into the surrounding tissue. 

Proliferative: Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (PDR) starts out as NPDR. As the condition worsens, damaged blood vessels shut off and new blood vessels form. This new vascular growth is weaker than normal and may leak or scar, leading to complications such as floaters, retinal detachment, or blindness. 

Diabetic Macular Edema

Diabetic Macular Edema is swelling that occurs in the macula, the part of the retina responsible for sharp central vision. Overtime, this swelling can lead to permanent vision loss. 


Glaucoma causes damage to the optic nerve as a result of increased intraocular pressure. This damage affects the peripheral vision, and can lead to blindness. According to the National Institute of Health, having diabetes doubles your chance of having glaucoma. 

Managing Diabetes

Proper management of diabetes is essential to protect your eyesight. Follow your doctor’s advice and keep regular exams with your primary care doctor, optometrist, and podiatrist (foot doctor). Check your blood sugars regularly. Always take your medication as prescribed. Your doctor will determine whether you can manage your diabetes with diet and exercise, or if you need medication. Eating a healthy diet is the most important way to manage your blood sugar. The CDC recommends working with a dietician to come up with a healthy meal plan. For more information about diabetes meal planning, visit their website: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/eat-well/meal-plan-method.html

Diabetic Eye Exams

Annual diabetic eye exams are recommended for anyone with diabetes. If problems arise, early intervention is key. At your diabetic eye exam, your eye doctor will dilate your eyes to see as much as possible inside them. If they suspect diabetic eye disease, you may need to have a Fluorescein Angiogram. During this exam, your doctor will inject a harmless, brightly colored fluid into your arm and look at the inside of your eye. If there is damage to the eye, your doctor will be able to see the dye in photographs.  

Treatments for Diabetic Eye Disease

After diabetic eye disease has been diagnosed by an eye doctor, they will usually treat it one of 3 ways:

Laser: An ophthalmologist may use a laser to treat swelling or leaking blood vessels on the retina

Injections: An ophthalmologist may inject a medication called anti-VEGF to reduce swelling of the macula

Vitrectomy: An ophthalmologist may perform a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy to remove excessive blood from the vitreous humor. 

Proper management of Diabetes is essential for healthy eyes. Work with your healthcare providers to make sure you are taking all the necessary steps to keep your Diabetes under control. To schedule an eye exam, call or text (907) 328-2920. Thank you for taking the time to read our blog, and be sure to check out all of the entries on our website at www.mountainvieweyes.com.


Centers for Disease Control: Diabetes https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/index.html

National Institute of Health: Diabetic Eye Disease https://www.niddk.nih.go


Written by Gina Stafford COA, LDO, ABOC

“World Diabetes Day” by Gia Willow Alexa Annermarken is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Posted in: Alaska Ophthalmology, Diabetic Retinopathy, Eye Doctor in Alaska, Eye Health Guide, Patient Education

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