How Diabetes Can Affect Your Vision

Elderly woman with Diabetic Retinopathy reading with eyeglasses

Many people with diabetes can live long and healthy lives. When high blood sugar levels are not controlled, there can be serious damage. 

This can happen to the heart, kidneys, feet, ears, and eyes.  The key to managing diabetes is through diet, exercise, and taking medications. 

November is Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to focus on how diabetes can affect vision. Keep reading for some tips on how to keep your diabetes in check!

High blood sugar levels may lead to blurry vision

High blood sugar causes the lens of the eye to swell. Often the first symptom that diabetics may experience is blurry vision. 

Once blood sugar levels are under control it can take up to 3 months for vision to seem normal again. As diabetes progresses, several different types of eye disease can develop:

Diabetes can cause cataracts because of excess blood sugar

Cataracts can be caused by excess blood sugar.  A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye, which makes the lens unable to focus. 

Anyone can develop a cataract, but diabetics often get them at an earlier age.  The only way to treat cataracts is with cataract surgery. During cataract surgery, the cloudy lens is removed and replaced with a clear lens. 

Diabetics are more likely to develop glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. It is a “silent” disease many patients don’t notice until their peripheral vision has been damaged. 

Most types of glaucoma occur because of elevated pressure inside the eye.  Diabetics are twice as likely as other people to develop glaucoma.  

People with diabetes can develop neovascular glaucoma. Neovascular glaucoma causes new blood vessels to grow into the iris. In turn, this increases eye pressure levels. 

When left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can impair vision

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common eye disease that affects diabetics. High blood sugar can damage the tiny blood vessels in the retina. 

The retina is a nerve layer at the back of your eye that relays images to your brain. Diabetic retinopathy causes blood vessels in the retina to weaken and leak fluid. 

In some people, abnormal blood vessels can grow on the surface of the retina. Diabetic retinopathy can seriously impair vision if it’s not detected and treated. 

The good news is that some effective treatments have been developed in recent years. These include lasers that stop bleeding and anti-VEGF injections into the eye.

If you don’t treat diabetic retinopathy, you could end up with diabetic macular edema

Diabetic macular edema is actually a consequence of diabetic retinopathy.  Fluid builds up in the macula, which is the part of the retina that helps us see fine detail and color.  

People with diabetes are 25 times more likely to become blind than those without the disease. There are many steps that diabetics can take to prevent vision loss. 

The most important thing that you can do to preserve healthy vision is to control your blood sugar. Your doctor will recommend the target blood sugar range that you should maintain. 

If you want to be healthy, a big part is eating a healthy diet and taking your prescribed medications. High blood pressure often accompanies diabetes and needs to be controlled as well. 

Diabetics should have a comprehensive eye exam at least once a year. This is a crucial step when it comes to maintaining healthy vision. 

Your doctor will need to dilate your eyes to see the retina at the back of the eye. If you have a diabetic eye disease, you may need to go for more frequent appointments.

Have questions about diabetic eye care or other eye diseases? Schedule an appointment at VisionFirst Eye Center in Birmingham, AL!

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