You know that having high blood sugar from diabetes can affect many body systems, but how does it affect your eyes?
Over time, having high blood sugar from diabetes can cause complications with the tiny blood vessels in the eyes. Eventually, these complications can lead to permanent vision loss, low vision or less commonly, blindness. By managing your diabetes and monitoring your eye health, you can take steps toward preventing or minimizing diabetic eye disease.
How can I prevent eye complications or stop them from getting worse?
Catching and treating eye problems early is the best way to prevent vision loss. Having a comprehensive exam done by a professional such as an ophthalmologist at least once a year is recommended for everybody with diabetes. An ophthalmologist is a specialist that can diagnose and treat eye disease. If you already have diabetic eye disease, you may need an exam more often. Talk to your eye care professional about which frequency is recommended for you.
Controlling your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol when you have diabetes are other important steps you can take toward protecting your eye health and your overall health. Unmanaged blood pressure and cholesterol can make complications progress faster when you have diabetes. Visit your doctor regularly for check-ups to be sure you are properly managing your diabetes.
How does diabetes affect my eyes and vision?
Diabetes can cause different types of eye problems. The retina, which is a tissue that lines the back of the eye, is commonly affected by diabetes. High blood sugar can damage the blood vessels in the retina, a condition called diabetic retinopathy.
Retinopathy has different stages, depending on how severe it is. Other conditions, such as detached retina and macular edema, can happen as a result of having retinopathy. Both conditions can cause vision loss if they are not treated.
In addition to problems with the retina, diabetes can cause other problems including cataracts, glaucoma, and neuropathy.
- Cataract: clouding of the lens of the eye
- Glaucoma: increased pressure in the eye that can lead to optic nerve damage
- Neuropathy: nerve damage (damage to the nerves in the feet or legs is the most common type from diabetes, but it can also affect the optic nerve.)
People with diabetes experience these conditions more often and they may progress faster, compared to people without the disease.
How will I know when I am having problems with my eyes?
Damage to the eyes from diabetes is a slow process, so you may not notice any problems until the damage is severe. That’s why it is recommended to see an eye doctor every year. If you are experiencing problems or changes with your vision, it’s important to see a doctor right away.
If you notice any of these symptoms, be sure to discuss them with your healthcare provider right away:
- Blurry vision or double vision
- Flashing lights or rings in your vision
- Dark spots, floating spots, or partially blocked vision
- Pain or pressure in one or both eyes
- Trouble seeing out of the corners of your eyes
How are eye complications related to diabetes treated?
Treatment for diabetic eye disease will depend on the type of complication you are experiencing. Diabetic retinopathy might be treated with laser treatment or surgery and, in some cases, medication injections. Cataracts are treated with surgery, and glaucoma can be treated with eye drops, laser treatment, or surgery.
Managing your diabetes and your overall health as well as seeking follow-up care with your eye doctor after treatment, are important ways you can prevent your vision problems from getting worse.
Diabetic Eye Problems, Medline Plus http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/diabeticeyeproblems.html. Updated June 27, 2016.
Diabetic Retinopathy Treatment, American Academy of Opthalmology http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/diseases/diabetic-retinopathy/treatment.cfm. Published September 1, 2013.
Eye Complications, American Diabetes Association http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/eye-complications/?referrer=https://www.google.com/. Reviewed June 7, 2013.
Facts about Diabetic Eye Disease, National Eye Institute https://nei.nih.gov/health/diabetic/retinopathy. Reviewed September 2015.
Glaucoma Treatment, National Eye Institute https://nei.nih.gov/glaucoma/content/english/faq3.
Prevent Diabetes Problems: Keep Your Eyes Healthy, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Diabetes/prevent-diabetes-problems/Pages/keep-eyes-healthy.aspx. Published May 2015.