People with diabetes have higher blood sugar (glucose) levels, which increases the risk of eye problems such as diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma. If you have diabetes, it is important to understand how this condition can affect your vision and to schedule a yearly eye exam with your ophthalmologist, ideally a Retina specialist, who will monitor any changes in your eye health and vision. Early detection is key to preventing vision loss.
Diabetic retinopathy is a disease resulting from type 1 or 2 diabetes that can damage blood vessels inside the retina, resulting in vision loss. In fact, diabetic retinopathy is a top cause of blindness in adults, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI). There are two forms of diabetic retinopathy:
Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy is the milder form of this disease and often does not affect your vision.
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy is the more serious form. It occurs when new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina, often resulting in the sudden onset of floaters due to abnormal vessels bleeding into the vitreous cavity of the eye, and may result in severe vision loss or blindness. However, according to the NEI, "People with proliferative retinopathy can reduce their risk of blindness by 95 percent with timely treatment and appropriate follow up care."
Macular edema can also cause visual loss in those suffering from diabetes. When fluid leaks into your macula, the part of the eye that enables you to see small details and supplies central vision, the macula can become swollen and blur vision
Cataracts and Glaucoma
Although cataracts are a normal part of aging, people with diabetes are 60 percent more likely to suffer from the condition due to high blood sugar levels, which cause the lens to swell and alter vision, reports Everyday Health. Additionally, diabetics often experience the problem at a younger age and the cataracts worsen faster.
Those with type 2 diabetes are also 40 percent more likely to develop glaucoma, explains Everyday Health, a condition where high pressure inside the eyeball damages optic nerve fibers and can lead to permanent vision loss.
Although there is no cure for diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma, effective treatments are available including vitrectomy surgery and laser treatment; however, it is, of course, better to prevent the conditions from ever occurring, and there are a few ways you can do this:
Get your eyes examined. You should visit an ophthalmologist for a dilated eye exam at least once a year. This helps to diagnose potential problems caused by any eye health condition. For example, there are often no symptoms accompanying diabetic retinopathy, but your doctor will be able to check for signs of damage in the retina with a dilated eye exam. Early detection also leads to better treatment results. Pregnant women may wish to have an additional eye exam as pregnancy can worsen eye health problems.
Maintain optimal blood sugar levels. This helps to prevent damage in the blood vessels of the retina and therefore lowers your risk of diabetic retinopathy.
Keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels optimal. A healthy diet and regular exercise can help achieve this.
Quit smoking. In addition to all the other health benefits, quitting smoking will reduce your risk of eye disease.
Keep close control of other conditions such as kidney disease, anemia, and obesity.
Even if you cannot ward off vision problems caused by your diabetes, you can slow the decline with early diagnosis and treatment. Remember, it is important to have a thorough dilated eye exam with a qualified professional to detect any eye health problems or vision loss.