About a third of Americans have diabetes — that’s nearly 33 million men, women, and kids. Most of those people have type 2 diabetes, which is an acquired type that happens when your body doesn’t make or use insulin the way it’s supposed to.
If you have diabetes — no matter which type — you’re at an increased risk of other diseases and medical conditions, too, including eye and vision problems. Your risks are even greater if you have trouble managing your blood sugar (glucose) levels.
At Advanced Lasik, Randa Garrana, MD, helps patients in and around Long Beach, California, understand their diabetes-related health risks so they can take important steps to reduce those risks. If you have diabetes, here’s what you should know about its potential effect on your eyesight.
Diabetes and your eyes
We all need glucose in order to “feed” our cells and perform a host of other important functions. But if we have too much blood sugar, that can have a really bad effect on our health. People with diabetes also have elevated risks of:
- Kidney disease and kidney failure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Nerve damage
- Foot problems (including increased risk of amputation)
- Skin changes
- Sores that won’t heal
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Hearing problems
- Vision problems, including blindness
Many of these problems happen when uncontrolled glucose levels damage the blood vessels that supply your organs with oxygen. Other times, nerve damage can interfere with the way your heart or other organs work.
Diabetes affects your eyes (and your vision) in different ways, increasing your risks of cataracts, glaucoma, and retina damage. Sometimes, doctors refer to diabetes-related eye problems as diabetic eye disease.
Diabetes and your vision
Most diabetic eye diseases happen as a result of changes in the blood vessels in your eyes. Initially, you may not notice any symptoms or you might have symptoms of blurry vision.
Blurriness happens when high glucose levels cause a change in fluid levels inside your eyes or cause your eye tissue to swell. Some people have temporary blurry vision when they change diabetes medicines or dosages.
If your glucose levels remain high for a long time, you can develop more serious, chronic problems that can ultimately cause blindness.
The retina is the light-sensitive back part of your eye. The retina gathers light and sends it to your brain via the optic nerve. Your brain processes the light data and creates the images we see.
In diabetic retinopathy, high glucose levels damage the tiny vessels inside your retina, causing fluid to leak out. If the damage continues, new, weak vessels can form, leaking more fluid and causing scarring, along with permanent loss of vision. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of permanent vision loss among working-age American adults.
Diabetic macular edema
The macula is the part of your retina responsible for central vision — what you see in front of you. As fluid leaks into your retina, it can cause the macula to swell, and over time, you can begin to lose your central vision. Loss of central vision can make it impossible to read, watch TV, use a computer, or drive.
Cataracts happen when the clear lens behind your iris “clouds up” and prevents light from reaching your retina. Cataracts are more common as we age, even in people without diabetes. But if you have diabetes, you’re more likely to develop cataracts at an earlier age.
Diabetes significantly increases the risk of glaucoma, an eye disease that’s caused by increased pressure inside your eye. Elevated pressure compresses the optic nerve, preventing the nerve from transmitting vision signals to the brain.
Preventing vision loss
In addition to doing all you can to manage your blood sugar, the best way to prevent diabetes-related vision loss is to have regular eye exams. During your exam, Dr. Garrana performs special evaluations to look for very early signs of diabetic eye disease so you can begin treatment as early as possible.
To schedule your eye exam or to learn more about diabetic eye disease, call or book an appointment online today.