Diabetes is a disease that affects the blood sugar and insulin levels in your body. It is well known that people who are affected by diabetes are at a higher risk of developing other health complications such as heart disease and stroke. But, it is less commonly known that diabetes can have adverse effects on your eyes and vision. Over time, diabetes can cause minor eye problems that worsen if they are not properly treated as soon as possible. Eventually, these eye problems can lead to incurable low vision or blindness. This is why it’s important that those affected by diabetes get comprehensive eye exams as often as recommended based on their condition. It is possible to avoid the effects of diabetic-related eye disease, and early detection is a necessary step.
Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition that can develop as a result of diabetes and can cause vision loss or blindness. This condition occurs when small blood vessels in the retina begin to leak blood or fluid because your high blood sugar levels are blocking blood flow to your blood vessels.
This condition may not show any symptoms at first, but some common symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include blurry or distorted vision and seeing floaters and halos frequently. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should make an appointment with your eye doctor immediately. There are medicines and procedures that an eye doctor can prescribe or recommend to correct the condition, but regulating your blood sugar to its normal level is the most effective solution.
Diabetic Macular Edema
Diabetic retinopathy can lead to other eye conditions such as diabetic macular edema (DME). About half of those diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy will also likely develop DME—which occurs when blood vessels in the retina leak fluid, causing swelling in the macula. You are also at risk of developing blurry vision from DME due to the build-up of fluid in the macula.
The macula, which is a part of the retina, is responsible for your ability to see clearly, so it is imperative that you keep it as healthy as possible. Diabetic macular edema can be treated with certain medications such as anti-VEGF, which is designed to reduce the fluid in the eye and restore vision. Similar to diabetic retinopathy, the best way to avoid the development of DME or reduce the risk of it resurfacing after it clears up is to keep control of your blood sugar levels.
Another side effect of diabetic retinopathy is neovascular glaucoma. This condition causes abnormal blood vessels to grow from the retina, which blocks fluid from draining out of the eye and can damage your optic nerve. Located in the back of the eye, the optic nerve transfers visual information from the retina to the vision centers of the brain.
People diagnosed with diabetes are twice as likely to develop glaucoma. Typically, peripheral vision will deteriorate first, followed by the rest of your vision. You should make yourself aware of the signs of glaucoma, which include headaches, eye pain, blurred vision, and nausea or vomiting. Early diagnosis is vital to prevent severe vision loss or blindness, so stay aware of these indicators.
Neovascular Glaucoma can be corrected by treating its underlying cause, diabetic retinopathy, with injections of anti-VEGF medications to the eye. Eye doctors may also attempt to lower eye pressure by using medications, laser surgery, or a combination of these treatments.
Cataracts occur when a protein in the lens of the eye clumps together and the lens becomes cloudy, making it difficult to see. This can happen to one or both eyes and is common among those with or without diabetes, although those with diabetes have a higher risk of developing cataracts in general and at an earlier age than most.
You can relieve some of the symptoms of cataracts by wearing eye protection such as pinhole glasses or stronger prescription eyeglasses, or adjusting the light conditions you are exposed to. By wearing new pinhole glasses and adjusting the light conditions in your home, you can restrict the amount of light that enters your pupils, which gives your vision more clarity and protects your eyes from further damage caused by UV or LED lights. By upgrading your eyeglasses prescription you can correct the blurry vision you might be experiencing as a symptom of cataracts. Although these changes may not cure cataracts, they can slow deterioration and postpone or eliminate the need for surgery.
The only solution to get rid of cataracts altogether is to have eye surgery to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial one. Luckily, cataracts don’t damage your entire eye, it just damages your lens. So, it is possible to postpone surgery if you can effectively deal with the symptoms you are experiencing.
Although there are other treatment options for many of these eye diseases listed above, the most effective of them all is regulating your blood sugar levels. This is because the eye diseases are less likely to develop at all if your blood sugar levels remain constant and can quickly subside if your blood sugar levels are returned to normal after dropping or rising.
In order to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, you will want to have regular appointments with your primary care physician, diabetic specialist, or nutritionist to lock down a healthy regimen to follow. They will likely suggest a regular exercise routine, specific eating habits, and daily instructions for your insulin use. Taking this advice to heart and following it as best as you can will help you feel good and avoid the development of any further health conditions, including but not limited to diabetic eye disease.
If you find yourself struggling to stay on track or constantly needing to speak to your doctor for assistance, consider using diabetic resources that are available today— such as DiabetesConnect. An app like this can record your blood sugar, meals, insulin, and medications and produce reports to keep you on track.
Diabetes can affect your vision in many ways, but with proper care and management of your condition, you can prevent most of its complications. So, be sure to stay up-to-date on signs and symptoms of eye disease, get regular eye exams to catch eye problems early, and follow your doctor’s lifestyle guidelines. If your diabetic condition does affect your vision remember that there are treatments, specialists, and support groups you can speak with to help you get through the difficult time.
The Sight-Loss Support Group of Baltimore and Beyond can help you feel less isolated and more empowered in your sight-loss journey. Please join us virtually on the third Tuesday of every month. Registration required.