Diabetes is increasing at alarming rates across the US.
In fact, roughly 10% of the population is estimated to suffer from the illness. (1)
The effects can be extremely devastating in many ways, especially over a longer period of time.
That includes cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, and eye damage called retinopathy.
Let’s take a closer look at the effects of diabetes on the eyes…
How Diabetes Affects the Eyes
Diabetes can damage the blood vessels in the retina, and may even lead to blindness.
In fact, diabetes is the main cause of blindness in people between the ages of 20 to 74.
To make matters worse, diabetes also increases the risk of glaucoma and cataracts.
But before we dive deeper into the matter, let’s do a quick refresh on what diabetes is:
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a group of diseases that affect the way your body uses blood sugar.
The main side effect is that there is too much sugar (glucose) in the blood, which leads to serious health issues.
Blood sugar, also known as glucose, is an important source of energy for muscles and tissues.
In addition, it is also the brain’s main source of energy.
Generally speaking, there are 3 types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes
- Type 2 diabetes
- Gestational diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is genetic and develops in children and teens, while type 2 diabetes usually develops in people over 40.
Gestational diabetes, on the other hand, occurs temporarily during pregnancy in some women.
7 Signs that You Might Have Diabetes Eye Problems
1. Decreased Night Vision
Have you noticed that it’s more difficult to see other cars on the road when you drive at night?
This is often a first sign that something might be going wrong with your vision.
2. Frequent Headaches
Have headaches or migraines more frequently than usual?
Headaches can have many different causes, including a change in your vision.
It may be time for a diabetic eye exam!
3. Infection & Discharge
Having a discharge doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an infection.
However, it is a sign that you might have one.
While most infections clear up on their own, some do need medical attention, especially those which may be contagious.
4. Tired Eyes
Having tired or sore eyes is more common these days from too much time staring at screens.
However, if you experience fatigued eyes for more than three days in a row, you might want to have your eyes checked.
5. Problems with Focus
Similar to having tired eyes, problems with focussing your eyes can be caused by spending too much time on devices.
However, if you’re having problems focusing on a specific object in your line of sight, it could be a sign of a bigger issue.
Although it is normal to experience this every now and then, if it happens on a regular basis you might want to see a doctor.
6. Disrupted Vision
Do you sometimes see things like auras, black spots, or “floaters” in your vision?
If these phenomena appear out of the blue, with or without headaches, you should see an optometrist.
That’s because in some cases, these are signs of a much more serious issue, like retinal detachment or retinal holes. (7)
7. Light Sensitivity
Corneal abrasions, infections, and other disorders like diabetes can cause light sensitivity.
If you notice that this is happening more than usual, or if it comes back often, you should get it checked.
How the Eye Works
Before we dive into the five most common diabetic eye problems, let’s also have a quick look at how the eye actually works:
Step 1: The outer curved membrane of the eye is called the cornea. It protects the eye and focuses the incoming light.
Step 2: The light then travels through the fluid-filled anterior chamber, the lens that allows your eyes to focus.
Step 3: Finally, the light hits the retina, which is located in the back of the eye. The retina is what tells the brain you’re seeing by converting the light to electrical signals.
Now that we’re all set, let’s take a look at the different diabetes eye problems.
5 Most Common Diabetes Eye Problems
1. Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy is the general term to cover all diabetes eye problems.
There are two major types of diabetic retinopathy: nonproliferative and proliferative. (2)
Nonproliferative retinopathy is the most common.
Ultimately, it blocks the capillaries in the back of the eye and causes them to balloon and form pouches.
The more blood vessels that become blocked, the worse it is.
Proliferative retinopathy is more serious and usually progresses from nonproliferative retinopathy.
It occurs when the blood vessels are so damaged that they completely close off.
In turn, new blood vessels grow as a response, which is weaker and can leak blood, resulting in blurry or even blocked vision.
In addition, scar tissue can form and damage the retina.
2. Blurry Vision
Blurry vision is a minor issue that’s caused by high blood sugar.
It makes the lens in the eyes swell, leading to blurry vision. (3)
In order to fix the issue, you’ll have to get your blood sugar back into a normal range.
Keep in mind that it may take up to three months for your vision to fully clear up.
Cataracts is a condition where the outer lens of the eye becomes cloudy and blocks sight.
People with diabetes are much more likely to develop this eye condition.
In fact, even younger diabetics are more likely to develop cataracts at a faster rate.
Mild cataracts can be managed by wearing sunglasses with glare-control lenses.
In more severe cases, though, you may need to have surgery to replace it with a new artificial one.
However, this is a high-risk procedure for people with diabetes because it can increase the risk of glaucoma. (4)
Glaucoma is a result of pressure building up in the eye, often caused by severe cataracts.
The pressure squeezes the blood vessels and leads to a gradual loss of vision.
Unfortunately, people with diabetes are much more likely to suffer from glaucoma, and the risk greatly increases with age. (5)
5. Macular Oedema
The macula is the part of the retina which allows you to see things in detail.
Diabetic macular oedema is caused by leaky blood vessels.
Over time, excess fluid builds up in the macula and causes sight loss. (6)
On the bright side, the condition only affects central vision, not peripheral vision.
Prevention of Diabetes Eye Problems
Unfortunately, Type 1 diabetes can’t be prevented because it is genetic. (8)
However, below are some healthy lifestyle choices that can help you prevent type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes from developing:
To be sure, eat a healthy diet that’s low in processed food and sugar.
Work out regularly! Try to aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day.
The ultimate goal is to maintain a healthy weight because being overweight is one of the biggest risk factors for diabetes.
If you have any more questions about diabetes eye problems, feel free to reach out to us at Complete Care Health Centers.
We’re happy to answer any questions you may have.