Alamo Optometry Blog

February 9, 2009

Systemic Diseases and the Eye

Filed under: Educational — Tags: — admin @ 11:27 pm

Systemic Diseases and the Eye
Monday, February 2, 2009

(As appeared in Alamo Today February 2009, pg.33)

As many of you may or may not be aware, almost every systemic disease can have ocular effects. Any disease, including cardio-vascular, auto-immune, intestinal, and cancer can and do affect the eye. The eye is no different from any other organ in the body; it receives and needs blood and oxygen to survive. If this is affected or reduced, vision and/or ocular health will definitely be affected. These can vary from a prescription change, cataract formation, or retinal disease, to name a few. That is why it is very important to let us know of any systemic ailments and medications, as these can have a profound effect on the eyes. For the purposes of this article, I will just cover the two most prevalent diseases, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Diabetes affects about 8 percent of the population in the United States and is characterized by either a deficiency in insulin production (type 1) or insulin resistance (type 2). The main ocular effect of diabetes is retinopathy, which is a disease of the retina. Diabetic retinopathy can lead to poor vision and even blindness. Most of the time, it gets worse over many years. At first, the blood vessels in the eye get weak. This can lead to blood and other liquid leaking into the retina from the blood vessels. This is the most common kind of retinopathy. If blood sugar levels stay high, diabetic retinopathy will keep getting worse. Due to the poor retinal blood flow through the damaged blood vessles, new blood vessels grow on the retina. This may sound good, but these new blood vessels are weak. They can break open very easily, even while you are sleeping. If they break open, blood can leak into the middle part of your eye in front of the retina and change your vision. This bleeding can also cause scar tissue to form, which can pull on the retina and cause the retina to move away from the wall of the eye (retinal hole or detachment). Retinopathy can also cause swelling of the macula of the eye. This is called macular edema. The macula is the middle of the retina, which gives you your sharp 20/20 vision and color vision. When it swells, it can make your vision much worse. The only way to diagnose this is a comprehensive dilated optometric examination. Annual exams can help detect retinopathy and monitor retinopathy before it affects your vision.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is another vascular disorder that forces your heart to work harder to pump blood through your arteries. This can lead to hardening of the arteries and subsequent heart failure. In addition to all of the other body organs it can affect, the eye can also be compromised. The blood vessels of the retina over time can narrow and cause a decrease in blood to the retina. Compromised blood flow can cause swelling of the optic nerve and macula, which over time can lead to decreased vision and possible stroke in the eye. Since this is something that can not be self-monitored, an annual dilated examination can help in the detection and monitoring of this potentially blinding disease.
To help combat these diseases, the absolute best thing you can do is to keep the disease under control. The more your blood sugar and blood pressure are under control, the less likely eye consquences will be an issue. That means visits to your doctor and taking your medications, life-style changes, etc. as prescribed. Keep in mind that just because you “feel” fine and have your diseases under control, the fact is you still have the disease. Besides the ocular consequences, you also have heart, liver, kidneys, brain, and other organs that need to be monitored to help avoid any long-term or life-threatening issues. Along with your regular doctor visits, annual eye exams should be on your list to keep these devastating diseases monitored and under control.

Dr. K. at Alamo Optometry is your hometown eye doctor for outstanding service, vision care, and designer eyewear. He can be reached at 925-820-6622 or visit his office at 3201 Danville Blvd., Suite 165 in Alamo.

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