Many health conditions can be detected by examining the eyes. For instance, by analyzing the health of the blood vessels in the retina, eye doctors can detect signs of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Diabetes can also be detected in the eyelids by the absence of meibomian glands.
At The Dry Eye Center at Pacific Rims Optometry in San Francisco, we believe that part of providing excellent eye care is to educate our patients on all things eye-related. This includes knowing the signs of possible disease.
Below we'll discuss the relationship between elevated blood sugar and eye gland dysfunction and explain treatment options.
But First, What are Meibomian Glands?
Meibomian glands are tiny oil-producing glands that line the inside of the upper and lower eyelids. A healthy tear film relies on these important glands, which secrete nourishing oils that coat the cornea's surface. These oils prevent tears from evaporating too quickly.
Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) occurs when the glands' tiny and fragile ducts become clogged. The oil that does manage to make it through the clogged ducts is often of poor quality and thicker and more granular than normal.
This results in chronic irritation and dry eyes.
If MGD isn’t treated, these fragile glands may begin to atrophy and then actually stop functioning permanently, resulting in severe dry eye symptoms.
Risk factors for developing MGD include aging, hormonal changes, some medications and medical conditions, including diabetes.
How Does Blood Sugar Affect Meibomian Gland Function?
A 2020 study published in The Journal of Endocrine Society investigated the link between uncontrolled blood sugar and the functioning of the meibomian glands. According to the study, elevated hemoglobin A1C levels can cause meibomian gland deterioration.
This could be caused by several factors. Firstly, diabetes and hyperglycemia damage small, delicate blood vessels, including those that supply the meibomian glands with oxygen and nutrients.
Researchers have also suggested that insulin resistance may negatively affect the meibomian glands and the sebaceous glands. Furthermore, elevated blood sugar levels can severely impact the quality of meibum (oily secretion) produced by these glands.
What’s the Bottom Line?
Having diabetes is a significant risk factor for developing MGD and meibomian gland loss. Patients who experience dry eye symptoms should schedule a comprehensive eye exam with their local eye doctor to determine its underlying cause. It’s important to treat MGD before the glands become irreversibly damaged.
If you have atrophied meibomian glands but no history of diabetes, talk to your optometrist about getting tested for diabetes and pre-diabetes, as well as for Sjogren's syndrome and other autoimmune diseases.
Regular and comprehensive eye care can help preserve your eyesight and eye health.
Eye Disease Management and Other Eye Care Services in San Francisco
Whether or not you have meibomian gland dysfunction, diabetes, or any other medical condition, your The Dry Eye Center at Pacific Rims Optometry eye doctor is here to provide you with the best eye care possible.
From routine eye exams to eye disease diagnosis and management, The Dry Eye Center at Pacific Rims Optometry in San Francisco can help. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.
Our practice serves patients from San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Mateo, California and surrounding communities.
Frequently Asked Questions with Dr. Selena Chan
Q: What are the common risk factors for developing dry eye syndrome?
A: You’re more likely to develop dry eye syndrome if you’re female, over the age of 50, take certain medications like antidepressants and antihistamines, live in a dry, windy or hot environment and have autoimmune diseases. Speak with your eye doctor about your individual risk factors; this will help determine the best preventative measures for long-term healthy and comfortable eyes.
Q: What does dry eye syndrome feel like?
A: The most common symptoms of dry eye syndrome include eye redness, dryness, irritation, grittiness, light sensitivity, watery eyes, stinging eyes, and crustiness or stringy mucus around the eyes or eyelids. People with dry eyes may also find it difficult to wear contact lenses or drive at night. Symptoms can be persistent, chronic, or sporadic depending on eye hygiene, your environment and other factors.