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Home » Medical » Eye Gland Atrophy May Signal High Blood Sugar In Diabetic Patients

Eye Gland Atrophy May Signal High Blood Sugar In Diabetic Patients

Eye Gland Atrophy 640It’s an established fact that many health conditions can be detected through the eyes. For example, signs of diabetes and cardiovascular disease can be detected by analyzing the health of the blood vessels in the retina. What many don’t know is that diabetes can also be signaled by a lack of meibomian glands in the eyelids.

At Dr.'s Eyecare LASIK and Eye Surgery Center in Burlington, we believe that part of providing excellent eye care is educating our patients on all things eye-related, including signs of possible disease. Below you’ll find information on the link between eye gland dysfunction and elevated blood sugar, and what we can do to help.

But First, What are Meibomian Glands?

The meibomian glands are tiny oil-producing glands that line the inside of the upper and lower eyelids. A healthy tear film depends on the optimal functioning of these important glands, as they secrete nourishing oils that coat the surface of the cornea and prevent tears from evaporating too quickly.

Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) occurs when there’s a problem with the meibomian glands, often caused by their tiny and fragile ducts becoming clogged. With MGD, the oil that does make it through the clogged ducts is often of poor quality and thicker and more granular than normal. The thicker oil then blocks the glands, preventing it from flowing into the tears. 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 excerpted in the The Journal of Endocrine Society investigated the link between uncontrolled blood sugar and the functioning of the meibomian glands. It explained that having elevated hemoglobin A1C levels is a serious risk factor for the deterioration of the meibomian glands.

This could be due to a few reasons. First of all, diabetes and hyperglycemia can damage small and delicate blood vessels, such as those that supply the meibomian glands with essential oxygen and nutrients.

Researchers also [theorized] that insulin resistance can have a toxic effect on all of the body’s sebaceous glands, including the meibomian glands. Additionally, elevated blood sugar levels can dramatically reduce the quality of the meibum (oily secretion) that these glands produce.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Having diabetes is a significant risk factor for developing MGD and experiencing meibomian gland loss. Patients who experience symptoms of MGD should schedule a comprehensive eye exam with their local eye doctor to determine the underlying cause and treat the condition before the glands become irreversibly damaged.

Patients with atrophied meibomian glands but no history of diabetes may want to ask their physician about being tested for diabetes and pre-diabetes as well as autoimmune diseases like Sjogren’s syndrome.

With regular and comprehensive eye care, your eye doctor can help preserve your eyesight and eye health for the best possible outcome.

Eye Disease Management and Other Eye Care Services in Burlington

Whether or not you have meibomian gland dysfunction, diabetes, or any other medical condition, your Dr.'s Eyecare LASIK and Eye Surgery Center eye doctor is here to provide you with the best eye care possible.

From routine eye exams to eye disease diagnosis and management, call Dr.'s Eyecare LASIK and Eye Surgery Center in Burlington today to schedule your appointment.


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