Signs Are in the Eye

Diabetic nerve damage may be identified with routine eye examination

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The eye may be the gateway to the soul, but it also could be where doctors can look for signs of nerve damage caused by diabetes.

Nerve damage caused by diabetes - known as diabetic peripheral neuropathy - is linked to other damage in patients' eyes. This finding could eventually lead to a way for doctors to test for diabetes-related nerve damage during routine eye exams.

"Have your eyes checked for signs of diabetic nerve damage."

Because of his own struggle with diabetes, Dr. Nathan Efron, recipient of the Glenn A. Fry Lecture Award, became interested in finding ways to spot the common problem of nerve damage.

Diabetes-related nerve damage is a serious problem that causes numbness, tingling, or pain in patients' arms and legs. In some cases, patients may need to have a leg or foot removed, Dr. Efron explains.

Looking in patients' eyes for clues, Dr. Efron and colleagues found that diabetic peripheral neuropathy is linked to the decay of corneal nerves (nerves at the front of the eye), a less sensitive cornea (which is responsible for much of the eye's seeing power), thinning nerve fibers in the retina, and loss of peripheral vision.

Now, the goal for the researchers is make a simple eye scan that can spot these four signs of diabetes-related nerve damage. This would be an important step forward because the current ways for detecting diabetic nerve damage are either painful or less accurate.

In fact, a clinical trial to assess a simple eye scan is already underway. If the scan is successful, diabetes patients and their doctors will have a new tool to help identify diabetic nerve damage, hopefully leading to better management of the problem.

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Review Date: 
June 2, 2011
Last Updated:
November 19, 2013