Diabetic Eye Diseases

November is National Diabetes Month. Diabetes is a controllable condition that is growing in the US. In adults 20 and older more than one in 10 people have diabetes, while in seniors (65 and older) that number increases to more than one in four.

Diabetic Eye Diseases

One of the eye diseases that can result from diabetes is diabetic retinopathy, which will affect approximately 11 million people by 2030. Check the infographic below to learn more about diabetic eye diseases.

diabetic eye diseases

11/3/15

NEI LogoCourtesy of the National Eye Institute (NEI), a part of NIH.

Night Blindness

10/28/14

As the number of daylight hours decrease and daylight savings time is about to end, many of us feel that the days are getting much shorter. If you suffer from night blindness, your days are shorter, because getting around or driving at night, are sometimes impossible.

Night blindness is a condition that makes it difficult for a person to see in low-light situations or at night. Some types are treatable, while others are not. You will need to consult your eye doctor to determine the underlying cause of your night blindness to determine what can or cannot be done.

night blindness
Courtesy of wikipedia

There are several things that could cause night blindness:
•Cataracts
•Genetic eye disease
•Vitamin A deficiency
•Diabetes
•Aging eye
•Sunlight exposure

Here is a brief look at each.
Cataracts – This is when the lens of the eye becomes gradually becomes clouded, reducing vision. Besides reducing vision at night you may also experience halos around lights. This is a treatable condition requiring cataract surgery and replacing your clouded lens with a clear artificial lens. Your vision should improve considerably.

Genetic Eye Disease – Both retinitis pigmentosa or Usher syndrome are progressive genetic eye diseases where the rods that regulate light, and cones that control color perception and detail die. Progressive night blindness is one of the first visual symptoms of these two diseases. Currently there is no treatment for them as there is no way to treat or replace the dying rods.

Vitamin A Deficiency – While rare in the US, it can be a result of other diseases or conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis or problems with the pancreas. Options to help with the deficiency include vitamin supplements suggested by your doctor, or increasing your intake of orange, yellow or green leafy vegetables.

Diabetes – People with diabetes are at higher risk for night vision problems because of the damage to the blood vessels and nerves in the resulting in diabetic retinopathy. Not only can it cause poor night vision, it may also take longer to see normally after coming indoors from bright light outside. There is no cure, but controlling blood sugar levels with medicine and diet can help prevent developing retinopathy or help slow the progression.

Aging Eye – As we age several things happen to our eyes. Our iris, which regulates the amount of light going into the eye, gets weaker and less responsive. This can make adapting from light to dark more difficult and slower. Our pupils shrink slightly allowing less light into the eye. The lens of the eye becomes cloudier, as explained above in cataracts, limiting the amount of light into the eye. We also have fewer rods for light perception. Aside from cataract surgery there is no treatment for age-related night blindness. However, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fat is the best way to slow the progression. Here is more information on how the aging eye is affected.

Sunlight Exposure – If your night vision seems temporarily worse after a trip to the beach or a day on the ski slopes, it probably is. Sustained bright sunlight can impair your vision, especially if you fail to wear sunglasses or goggles.

Night blindness due to genetic conditions or aging cannot be prevented. However if you protect your eyes from extreme sunlight, eat a healthy diet, and monitor blood sugar levels if needed, you can reduce your chances for night blindness.

As we head into the holiday season, you should know that some great sources of vitamin A include sweet potatoes, butternut squash and … pumpkins!

Susan DeRemerSusan DeRemer, CFRE
Vice President of Development

The Evolving Contact Lens

4/22/14

Contact lenses give a person the ability to see without glasses. If you have keratoconus, they are essential for seeing as regular glasses don’t work with an irregularly shaped cornea. But lately these relatively simple lenses have created a whole new world where they can dispense eye medication, measure blood glucose levels and even help the blind see.

Courtesy Google
Courtesy Google

Monitoring Blood Sugar
You have heard about Google Glasses, but Google is looking beyond the smartphones of eye wear to monitoring health. They are currently working on a lens with tiny wireless chips and glucose sensors that are sandwiched between two lenses. They would monitor glucose levels once a second and use tiny LED lights, also inside the lenses, to flash when the levels are too high or low. And how big are these electronics? They are no larger than a speck of glitter, with a wireless antenna that is thinner than a human hair. While they are still in development – Google has run clinical research studies and is in discussions with the FDA – it could make blood sugar monitor far less invasive than pricking your finger several times a day.

Drug Delivery for Glaucoma
Getting glaucoma patients to regularly use their eye drops to regulate the pressure in their eyes has always been a problem. They forget, don’t want to be bothered, or have a hard time getting the drops into their eyes. This could change with two research projects exploring the use of contact lenses to deliver medication over a prolonged period of time.

Researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Harvard Medical School Department of Ophthalmology, Boston Children’s Hospital, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who are working on a lens designed with a clear central area and a drug-polymer film made with the glaucoma drug latanoprost, around the edge to control the drug release. These lenses can be made with no refractive power or the ability to correct the refractive error in nearsighted or farsighted eyes.

Another team from University of California, Los Angeles have combined glaucoma medication timolol maleate with nanodiamonds and embedded them into contact lenses. When the drugs interact with the patient’s tears, the drugs are released into the eye. While the nanodiamonds strengthen the lens, there is no difference in water content so they would be comfortable to wear and allow oxygen levels to reach the eye.

Seeing in the Dark
Researchers out of the University of Michigan have developed an infrared sensor that could eventually be used in the production of night vision contact lenses. Thanks to graphene, a tightly-packed layer of carbon atoms, scientists were able to create a super-thin sensor that can be stacked on a contact lens or integrated with a cell phone.

Stem Cells for Cornea Damage
Researchers in Australia are working on a way to treat corneal damage with stem cell infused contact lenses. Stem cells were taken from the subject’s good eye and then plated them onto contact lenses (if there is a defect in both eyes, stem cells are taken from a different part of the eye). After wearing for about two weeks the subjects reported a significant increase in sight.
Braille-Tracile-Contacts
Helping the Blind See
And what good are contact lenses if you are blind? At Bar Ilan University in Israel researchers are creating special lenses that translate images into sensations felt on the eye. It works by taking an image with a smartphone or camera, it is then processed and sent to the contact lens. The custom-made lens is fitted with a series of electrodes that use small electric impulses to relay shapes onto the cornea, similar to braille. After some practice, test subjects were able to identify specific objects.

In expanding the uses of contact lenses, these projects seem to be just the beginning, all reported in the first four months of this year. Researchers and developers are working together to find more and better ways help with vision and medical issues, using contact lenses.

Susan DeRemerSusan DeRemer, CFRE
Vice President of Development
Discovery Eye Foundation