How Diabetes Can Affect Your Eyes
November is Diabetes Awareness Month, but anyone who lives with this condition knows that it must be paid attention to year-round.
While your eyes are the only place of many where diabetes can have detrimental effects throughout your body, the potential damage caused to your vision and eye health over time can be devastating.
Your vision should not be your only concern regarding your long-term diabetic health, but it should not be neglected, either. Regular eye health evaluations should be a part of any comprehensive diabetic care plan, along with other specialized care.
And by learning more about what diabetes can do to your eyes over time, you can be more prepared to detect potential problems early. The sooner such problems are identified and addressed, the lower the risk that they can have severe or longer-lasting effects on your vision. The key is in preventative care; not waiting for a problem to become more threatening!
Here are a few of the ways that diabetic eye disease can affect your vision.
The retina is the lining on the back of your inner eye. The light that enters your eye is focused onto the retina, which then turns it into signals that the brain translates into a visual picture.
Over time, high blood glucose can damage blood vessels in and around where the retina is located. Initially, these vessels may distend or leak against the retina, causing some interference with vision. Light may become blocked from hitting small parts of the retina.
As retinopathy worsens, some blood vessels may fail or close off entirely. This can cause the body to respond by creating new blood vessels along the surface of the retina. This produces further blockage of light and creates severe vision interference. Vision can become very blurry and outright blocked in patchy areas across your field of vision.
These abnormal vessels, called neovascularization, can also break and bleed, or leak fluid. This can lead to retinal swelling or edema. It can progress to scarring, retinal detachments, and blindness.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), about 1 in 3 diabetic patients over the age of 40 show at least some signs of diabetic retinopathy.
Glaucoma is not a condition specific to someone with diabetes. However, having diabetes can greatly increase your risk of developing glaucoma, as well as its severity in diabetic patients who have it.
Glaucoma is a group of conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve. As this nerve is damaged, it can reduce your peripheral vision, gradually closing off the sight of things around you.
According to the NIH, patients with diabetes have about twice the risk of developing glaucoma as those who do not.
The links between diabetes and glaucoma risk are not completely known in all regards, but we do understand how some cases occur. When the body creates new blood vessels in response to others that have been damaged, these vessels can also grow on the iris and block the flow of fluid out of the eye, back into the bloodstream. This raises internal pressure, which can damage the optic nerve. This type of glaucoma is called “neovascular glaucoma.”
People with diabetes are also at a higher risk of developing cataracts, a condition in which the lenses of the eyes lose flexibility and become cloudy.
Although cataracts will develop in most people, those who have diabetes tend to be at a higher risk of early development. Experts believe this higher risk can be attributed to high glucose levels causing deposits to build up within the lenses.
Swelling in the Lens and Macula
On another lens-related note, high blood sugar can also make the lenses of the eyes swell, changing the power of the lens and causing vision to become blurry. Successfully managing your blood sugar levels can help revert this blurriness in many cases, although it may take several weeks.
Potentially more damaging to your long-term vision is swelling of the macula, also known as diabetic macular edema.
The macula is an area of the retina responsible for central vision. It is where our sharpest and most targeted focus tends to be. When we are reading, focused on work in front of us, or doing anything else that requires excellent clarity, we are more often than not using our macula.
Swelling of the macula can also be managed and reversed like swelling in the lenses. However, long-term swelling can destroy our sharp vision and lead to significant blindness. Patients who already have signs of diabetic retinopathy are at higher risk of complications through macular edema.
Why Protective Care Matters Now
When simply having diabetes means that your risk of certain detrimental conditions is higher, there is never a good reason to wait for things to become worse before taking any action.
Managing your blood sugar well will have both good short-term and long-term benefits for your eye health. It can not only help prevent blurred vision due to swelling of the lenses but help maintain the longer-term health of your blood vessels and circulation as well.
But even with proper management, complications can still gradually arise. This is where regular check-ups and early detection can become invaluable.
Through consistent examinations, we can keep a running history of your eye health that can help us more quickly detect when something isn’t as it should be. This can be especially crucial for conditions such as glaucoma, which we may be able to detect before its more prominent and worrisome symptoms develop.
Diabetes is a condition that requires attention, but the investment is well worth maintaining and prolonging healthy vision. We’ll always be happy to help you determine a long-term plan for your eye care.
Schedule an appointment with Sight Eye Clinic by calling our office or by filling out our online contact form.