Diabetic Eye Disease: How Diabetes Can Affect Your Vision

By:    Published: October 27, 2011

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Diabetic eye disease is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States and the rest of the world. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), between 40 to 45 percent of Americans who are diagnosed with diabetes suffer from diabetic retinopathy, the most common diabetic eye disease.

What Are the Different Types of Diabetic Eye Disease?

Diabetic eye disease can refer to different eye problems that those with diabetes are at a potentially high risk for developing. These eye problems can lead to blurred vision and irreversible blindness. The most common diabetic eye diseases are glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy:

  • Glaucoma: This is one of two eye diseases that can affect those without diabetes. However, individuals suffering from diabetes are at an increased risk of developing glaucoma, and at a younger age. Glaucoma is caused when fluid trapped within the eye increases pressure within the eye. This pressure can damage the nerves and vessels in the eye, which leads to vision problems, increased headaches, eye pain, blurred vision or blindness, halos around lights and watery eyes.
  • Cataracts: This is the other eye disease that can affect those without diabetes, but has a higher frequency of occurrence in those suffering from diabetes. Cataracts refer to clouds that can form over the lens of a person's eye. This prevents a person's eye from completely focusing, leading to blurred or clouded vision. Surgery is required to remove cataracts, along with implantation of a plastic lens to replace the lens that is removed. Vision correction through glasses or contact lenses may also be required.
  • Diabetic retinopathy: This is the most common form of diabetic eye disease and only occurs in those suffering from diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy is defined as vision loss caused by blood vessels in the retina. These blood vessels may leak fluid into the retina, or abnormal blood vessels may start to grow on the surface of the retina. Both of these conditions affect a person's vision and can lead to blindness. Diabetic retinopathy is a degenerative eye disease, meaning it is a disease that can grow worse overtime.

Symptoms of Diabetic Eye Disease

While glaucoma and cataracts have their own specific set of symptoms, described above, there are other signs that may indicate a person is suffering from diabetic eye disease:

  • Blind spots
  • Flashing lights
  • Floating spots
  • Pain or pressure in the eyes
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Inability to read things that are normally visible
  • Permanent red eyes
  • Straight lines look bent or curved

Preventative Measures

Eye complications are a serious problem for those who are suffering from diabetes. Preventative measures should be taken to reduce the risk of diabetic eye disease to preserve one's vision. Here is a list of steps a person can take to avoid eye problems associated with diabetes:

  • Properly manage blood sugar levels. Whether a person has yet to develop diabetic retinopathy, or has already developed the disease, studies have shown that those who keep their blood sugar levels close to normal are at a lower risk for developing the disease, or having the disease progress even further.
  • Control high blood pressure. High blood pressure can further complicate diabetic eye disease.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking and high blood pressure can lead to the formation of new blood vessels in the orbit of the eye. This can lead to vessels bleeding and forming a clot, which can cause the retina to detach.
  • Make regular visits with an eye doctor for a dilated eye exam. Aside from visits to a regular healthcare physician, those suffering from diabetes should regularly visit an optometrist and ophthalmologist. These healthcare professionals specialize in detecting and treating diabetic retinopathy. It is important to visit an eye care professional, even if the person suffering from diabetes has yet to experience any vision problems.

Treatment

Treatment methods vary depending on the type of diabetic eye disease. Since diabetic eye disease is degenerative, it is important to catch the disease early before a person's vision gets progressively worse.

  • Glaucoma treatment: can include eye drops, laser treatment, medication and surgery. Those suffering from diabetes should have regular glaucoma screenings with their eye doctor.
  • Cataract treatment: requires surgical removal of the cataract, and replacing the original lens of the eye with a plastic implant. Eye glasses and contact lenses may also be used to further correct vision.
  • Diabetic retinopathy treatment: may vary depending on the stage of the disease. Laser treatment is used for treating proliferative retinopathy and macular edema. A vitrectomy may be necessary to remove blood and fluid that has pooled in the center of the eye to help restore vision. If a person's vision has already been impaired by diabetic retinopathy, low vision services and devices may be used to help improve vision.

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