Diabetic Eye Disease
By David TurbertReviewed By G Atma Vemulakonda, MDOct. 14, 2021
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease that affects the body’s ability to produce or use insulin effectively to control blood sugar (glucose) levels. Too much glucose in the blood for a long time can cause damage in many parts of the body. Diabetes can damage the heart, kidneys and blood vessels. It damages small blood vessels in the eye as well. Even if diabetes is well controlled, it can affect your regular eye care.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that about 90% of vision loss from diabetes can be prevented. Early detection is key. People with diabetes should get critical, annual eye exams even before they have signs of vision loss. Studies show that 60% of diabetics are not getting the exams their doctors recommend.
What Is Diabetic Eye Disease?
Diabetic eye disease is a term for several eye problems that can all result from diabetes. Diabetic eye disease includes:
- diabetic retinopathy,
- diabetic macular edema,
- cataract, and
Diabetic retinopathy is when blood vessels in the retina swell, leak or close off completely. Abnormal new blood vessels can also grow on the surface of the retina.
People who have diabetes or poor blood sugar control are at risk for diabetic retinopathy. Risk also increases the longer someone has diabetes. One woman developed diabetic retinopathy after living with diabetes for 25 years.
Diabetic macular edema
Macular edema happens when fluid builds up on the retina and causes swelling and blurry vision. Diabetes can cause macular edema. Diabetic macular edema can lead to permanent vision loss.
Diabetes and cataracts
Excess blood sugar from diabetes can causes cataracts. You may need cataract surgery to remove lenses that are clouded by the effects of diabetes. Maintaining good control of your blood sugar helps prevent permanent clouding of the lens and surgery.
Diabetes and glaucoma
Glaucoma is a group of diseases that cause damage to your eye's optic nerve. This damage leads to irreversible loss of vision. Having diabetes doubles your chance of getting glaucoma.
What Other Eye Problems Are Related to Diabetes?
Diabetes can cause vision problems even if you do not have a form of diabetic eye disease. These can include:
- Blurry vision. If your blood sugar levels change quickly, it can affect the shape of your eye’s lens, causing blurry vision. Your vision goes back to normal after your blood sugar stabilizes. Have your blood sugar controlled before getting your eyeglasses prescription checked. This ensures you receive the correct prescription.
- Double vision. Diabetes can damage the nerves that move the eyes and help them work together. This nerve damage can lead to double vision.
Diabetes is a risk factor for several other eye diseases. They include:
Take Steps to Protect Your Vision
To prevent eye damage from diabetes, maintain good control of your blood sugar. Check it daily! Follow your primary care physician's diet and exercise plan. If you have not had an eye exam with an ophthalmologist, it is crucial to get one now. Be sure to never skip the follow-up exams that your ophthalmologist recommends.