8 Eye Problems Caused By Diabetes — And What You Can Do About Them
People with diabetes have many challenges to overcome on a daily basis, including being at risk of experiencing eye problems. High blood sugar can lead to a range of disorders that include blurred vision, cataracts, and glaucoma. If untreated, these disorders can ultimately lead to blindness.
While this can be very frightening, the good news is that most of these issues are often easily treatable with high success rates when caught in time. This underscores the importance of getting your eyes checked and scheduling regular comprehensive eye exams. Below are eight eye problems that people with diabetes may experience. Look out for these issues, and let your doctor know if you have any concerns.
8. Blurred Vision
People with diabetes often experience drastic fluctuation in their blood-sugar levels. The persistent rise in sugar causes the lens of the eye to distort and the patient experiences blurred vision. This condition generally corrects itself when the patient’s blood sugar returns to normal levels, though this can sometimes take up to three months. Maintaining a healthy diet with a consistent glucose level and getting regular exercise are the best ways to prevent and treat this condition.
While glaucoma strikes people without diabetes, it occurs in those with diabetes 40 percent more frequently. The longer a person has diabetes, the greater their likelihood of experiencing this disorder. Glaucoma occurs when pressure builds up in the eye. The pressure interferes with drainage of the aqueous fluid, causing it to slow down and build up in the anterior chamber of the inner eye. The pressure pinches the blood vessels that carry blood to the retina and optic nerve, causing damage that leads to vision loss. Common forms of treatment include drugs that relieve the pressure on the eye, as well as surgery, if necessary.
A cataract is characterized by a gradual clouding of the eye’s lens, which may become so cloudy that light does not pass through. This condition often strikes people who don’t have diabetes, but those with diabetes are 60 percent more likely to develop the disorder. They may experience it earlier in life and may also have more severe cases. Cataracts are usually detected by a physician during a routine eye exam. Treatment can range from prescription eyeglasses and eye drops in mild cases to surgery in more severe cases. If surgery is required, the lens is removed from the eye and replaced with an artificial one. The procedure is done on an outpatient basis and is often very successful.
People with diabetes face an increased risk of experiencing diabetic retinopathy. This occurs when high blood-sugar levels damage the tiny blood vessels in your retina, or the light-sensitive tissue at the back of your eye. It causes the blood vessels to swell and leak fluid into the retina. If undetected and untreated, diabetic retinopathy can lead to blindness. Early detection is crucial, and in some instances, may even save your vision, which is why regular comprehensive eye exams are important. Controlling glucose levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol are also effective in preventing the onset of diabetic retinopathy.
4. Background Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy typically progresses through four stages. Background retinopathy, also referred to as mild nonproliferative retinopathy, is one of the earliest stages of retinal damage. In this instance, high blood-sugar levels cause small areas of balloon-like swelling in the retina’s tiny blood vessels, called microaneurysms, that may leak fluid into the retina. The patient usually cannot detect this problem, although a comprehensive eye exam with a dilation test can prevent it from progressing.
3. Nonproliferative Retinopathy
Nonproliferative retinopathy encompasses the first three stages of diabetic retinopathy, progressing from mild to moderate, and then to severe. As the disease further develops, blood vessels that nourish the retina become swollen and distorted, losing the ability to function. As it becomes more serious, more blood vessels are blocked, taking away blood supply to areas of the retina, and causing the retina to grow new blood vessels. Photocoagulation is the surgical treatment used to correct and stop retinopathy. This procedure involves using a laser to make tiny burns on the retina to seal the blood vessels, thus stopping their growth and keeping them from leaking.
2. Proliferative Retinopathy
Although not as common, nonproliferative retinopathy sometimes develops into a far more serious condition after several years, which is called proliferative retinopathy. At this stage, the blood vessels are so damaged that they no longer function. The retina responds by triggering the growth of abnormal blood vessels, which leak blood into the eye and block your vision. Scar tissue forms from the new vessels, and when the scar tissue contracts, it can pull and detach the retina, leading to permanent vision loss. For treatment, a surgical procedure known as a vitrectomy is used once the retina has detached and photocoagulation is no longer effective. It involves surgery to remove scar tissue and cloudy fluid from inside the eye. The earlier that this operation can occur, the greater the likelihood it will be successful.
1. Diabetic Macular Edema
Diabetic macular edema is a buildup of fluid in an area of the retina known as the macula, which is responsible for straight-ahead vision that people use for activities such as reading and driving. Roughly half of the patients who experience diabetic retinopathy develop diabetic macular edema, and it can occur at any of its stages. It can be treated with steroid hormones, injection therapy, and laser surgery.
Diabetes takes so much from those who it afflicts, but it doesn’t have to rob them of their sight. If you have diabetes, it’s important to know the risks you face when it comes to your vision. It’s also important to know that most of these conditions are easily treatable if they’re detected in time. Talk to your doctor or ophthalmologist if you have any questions or concerns, and make sure you schedule at least one comprehensive eye exam per year. It’s a small price to pay for something so dear.