Diabetes not only increases your risk of kidney and heart disease but can also affect your vision. Diabetic retinopathy, one of the most common eye conditions experienced by people who have diabetes, can cause permanent damage to your eyesight. Learning more about diabetic retinopathy and other conditions that may affect your vision can help you recognize symptoms and ensure that you receive prompt treatment.
How Does Diabetes Affect Vision?
When your diabetes isn't properly controlled, you may develop one or more of these eye issues:
- Lens Problems. High levels of glucose (blood sugar) cause the lenses in your eyes to swell, making everything look blurry. The lens is the clear disk behind your iris that focuses light rays on your retina. Often, blurry vision is one of the first signs that your glucose level has risen. Uncontrolled high blood sugar can also play a role in the development of cataracts. Cataracts cause your lens to become cloudy, making it difficult to see clearly.
- Diabetic Retinopathy. Uncontrolled diabetes may cause diabetic retinopathy, a condition that affects almost one-third of people over 40 who have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The retina lines the back of the eye and converts light into signals that are sent to the brain via the optic nerve. The brain processes the signals, allowing you to recognize objects and people. When your blood sugar remains too high, the blood vessels in the retina may swell, begin to leak blood and fluid, or become blocked. In some cases, new blood vessels begin to form. Unfortunately, these new vessels soon begin to leak, impairing your vision.
- Diabetic Macular Edema. Macular edema affects the part of your retina responsible for central vision. When blood vessels in the macula leak, it's difficult to see images clearly in the central part of your visual field.
- Glaucoma. Glaucoma damages the optic nerve, which carries light signals from your retina to your brain. The condition occurs when the blood pressure in your eye increases. People who have diabetes are twice as likely to develop glaucoma, according to the Diabetes Research Foundation.
- Diabetic Neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy tends to affect the nerves of the hands and feet, causing tingling and numbness. The condition may also be responsible for vision problems if your optic nerve is affected.
- Detached Retina. Weak and leaking blood vessels in your retina can eventually cause scarring. If scarring develops, the retina may begin to detach from the back of your eye, causing blind spots in your vision.
What Are the Signs of Vision Problems Caused by Diabetes?
If you experience vision problems related to diabetes, you may notice:
- Blurred or double vision
- Pain in your eyes
- Difficulty reading
- Spots or floaters
- Wavy lines or images
- Flashes of light
- Blind spots
- Pressure in your eyes
- Peripheral or central vision loss
- Difficulty seeing clearly at night
How Are Diabetes-Related Eye Diseases and Conditions Diagnosed Treated?
If you have diabetes, you may not be aware that you have an eye disease or condition until significant damage has occurred. Yearly visits to the optometrist may reveal issues, allowing you to obtain treatment before your eyesight is permanently damaged. Before your exam, drops will be placed in your eyes to dilate your pupils. Once your pupils are dilated, your optometrist will have a better view of your retina and can spot leaking blood vessels and other changes in your eyes.
Treatment for diabetic eye conditions depends on the type and severity. If you have diabetic retinopathy or macular edema, you may benefit from laser treatment to stop blood vessels leakage. Medications injected into your eye are often used to stop new vessels from forming. When leaking blood vessels affect the vitreous, the gel-like substance that gives your eye its shapes, vitrectomy, a procedure that removes the bloody vitreous, may improve your vision.
How Can I Reduce My Risk of Diabetic Retinopathy and Other Conditions?
The easiest way to avoid vision problems caused by diabetes is to keep your blood glucose level under control. Taking your medication as directed, eating a healthy diet, keeping your weight under control and avoiding smoking are very important factors in controlling the disease. In addition to lifestyle changes, yearly visits to the optometrist can help you ensure that vision problems are diagnosed before they cause significant damage to your vision.
Has it been a while since you saw an optometrist? Call our office today to schedule your next appointment.
Glaucoma Research Foundation: Diabetes and Your Eyesight, 8/1/16
American Diabetes Association: Eye Care, 4/7/15
Joslin Diabetes Center: 5 Tips for Preserving Your Vision
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Diabetic Eye Disease
American Optometric Association: Diabetic Retinopathy