Diabetes can have many different effects on a person’s health, many of which often get overlooked. Today we’re here to break down one of the possible long-term effects, the Diabetic Eye. The Diabetic Eye is actually a group of eye problems affecting those with diabetes, including Diabetic Retinopathy, Diabetic Macular Edema, Cataracts and Glaucoma. Read on to learn more about what these eye problems are, how to recognize symptoms, and tips to reduce your risk.
In the short-term, high blood sugar levels can cause temporary swelling in the tissues of the eye that can cause blurred vision and is normally resolved when blood sugar levels go back to normal. If blood sugar is high in the long-term, the swelling can damage the small blood vessels in the back of the eye. This swelling and damage can start as early as prediabetes, and the damaged vessels can bleed into the middle part of the eye causing scarring or dangerously high pressure in the eye.
The retina is the inner lining at the back of each eye. It senses light and transmits signals to the brain, enabling you to see. The damaged blood vessels caused by high blood sugar can harm the retina, causing Diabetic Retinopathy. There are two types of Retinopathy- Nonproliferative Diabetic Retinopathy and Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy. Nonproliferative is when the blood vessels are weakened, bulged or leaking into the retina. Proliferative is when the blood vessels close off, causing new vessels to grow, or proliferate, on the surface of the retina. These new vessels can cause serious vision problems. Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy is less common, but more serious than Nonproliferative. One in three people with diabetes over the age of 40 already have signs of Retinopathy, which is the most common cause of vision loss associated with diabetes.
Diabetic Macular Edema
The Macula is the part of the retina needed for reading, driving and seeing faces. The Macula swells due to diabetes and can destroy the sharp vision of this part of the eye, leading to partial or full vision loss. Diabetic Macular Edema usually develops with people who have other signs of Diabetic Retinopathy.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can damage the optic nerve, the bundle of nerves that connects the eyes to the brain. Diabetes doubles a person’s risk for glaucoma, which leads to vision loss and blindness if not treated early.
There are lenses within the eye that help provide sharp vision, but can become cloudy with age. These clouds are called Cataracts. People with diabetes often develop cataracts at an earlier stage, and although it is not certain, researchers believe that high glucose levels cause deposits to build up in the lenses.
Often there are few symptoms as the damage in the eye is developing, but if they do occur a person may experience blurry vision, frequently changing vision, dark areas, poor color vision, spots or strings (also known as floaters) and flashes of light in the vision. If you have any of these symptoms, please talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
This all may sound quite scary, and can add to the stress of a chronic illness. However there are several things you can do to lower your chances of developing the Diabetic Eye. Finding and treating the signs of retinopathy early can reduce the risk of blindness by 95%. Since people don’t always show signs or symptoms until it is too late to be treated, it is recommended to always have eye checkups with your doctor annually or as otherwise decided by your healthcare team. A full dilated eye exam, which your doctor will perform, is the best way to check for eye problems. Proper disease management is also key to preventing or keeping eye disease from getting worse. Quit smoking if applicable, and track your blood sugar to ensure you are in a healthy range.
For more information on the Diabetic Eye don’t hesitate to talk with your doctor. This article from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases also provides some detailed research.