Diabetes is a disease that can negatively affect health in many ways, including healthy eyesight.
Diabetes brings with it an increased risk of developing several different eye diseases. These are grouped under the umbrella term “diabetic eye disease,” and they include cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic macular edema (DME), and diabetic retinopathy. With all of these combined, diabetes is a leading cause of blindness all across the world and the most common cause of blindness in pre-retirement age Americans.
The Mechanics of Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes (or gestational diabetes, which works the same way while it lasts) impairs the body’s ability to use insulin to regulate blood sugar effectively. If it isn’t carefully controlled, this can lead to periods of high blood sugar. Sugar feeds harmful bacteria, so high blood sugar is hard on blood vessels and raises the risk of infection. Let’s take a closer look at what that means for these sight-threatening conditions.
People with diabetes are two to five times more likely to develop cataracts than people without. The reason diabetes increases the risk of developing cataracts is that poorly controlled blood sugar can cause swelling in the lens of the eye, and it can also cause opaque proteins to accumulate in the lens, making it cloudy. Fortunately, cataract removal surgery is a very common, safe procedure.
Our eyes are constantly replacing the fluids inside them in order to keep functioning properly. Glaucoma is when that process gets interrupted, the pressure on the optic nerve increases, and damage occurs (up to and including permanent blindness). Diabetics are more likely to develop glaucoma as their non-diabetic peers. Glaucoma doesn’t always have symptoms in the early stages, which is one reason it’s so important to keep up with regular eye exams.
Diabetic Retinopathy And DME
Retinopathy is when the blood vessels in the back of the eye leak blood into the fluid that fills the eye, appearing as dark blotches in the field of vision. Our eyes attempt to compensate for the damaged blood vessels by growing new ones. This isn’t very effective, though, because the new vessels are generally fragile and even more likely to leak than the original ones.
High blood sugar puts a serious strain on blood vessels, which is why diabetes is such a serious risk factor for retinopathy. If it advances far enough, diabetic retinopathy can become DME, which involves blurred central vision and can lead to retinal detachment and blindness.
Protect Your Sight with Regular Eye Exams
Your two best resources for protecting your sight from the effects of diabetes are you and your eye doctor. If you can keep your blood sugar as close to normal as possible, you will reduce your risk levels for these eye diseases much closer to what they are for people without diabetes. Meanwhile, when you come in for regular eye exams, we can keep an eye out for any early signs of problems, reducing the risk of blindness by as much as 95 percent.
We and our patients make a great team!
Top image by Flickr user Kolin Toney used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 4.0 license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.