More than 30 million Americans suffer from diabetes—a condition that affects the body’s ability to utilize glucose (sugar) in a correct, efficient manner. Insulin, a hormone, allows the human body to convert sugar to energy. Those with diabetes may not produce enough insulin, or the insulin they do produce may not be used correctly.
Worse still, nearly 90 million Americans are prediabetic, with many unknowingly opening the door to diabetes and a host of other health problems.
Left unchecked and untreated, sugar levels in the body go unregulated—allowing some organs to be damaged from being fed too little sugar, and others damaged by an influx of glucose.
Either way, diabetic eye care isn’t something to take lightly. Here, we’ll discuss how diabetes can impact your eyesight to shed light on the conditions diabetic patients could suffer from.
Defining “Diabetic Eye Disease”
“Diabetic eye disease” isn’t a single thing. In fact, it’s a group of problems that affect diabetic patients. There are a host of conditions to watch out for, but the most common concerns include diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, cataracts, and glaucoma.
The inner lining near the back of your eye is called the retina. This tissue senses light, allowing you to see clearly. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when damaged blood vessels harm the retina. Symptoms include blurriness, dark areas within your line of sight, and difficulty with color perception.
Macular edema is caused by the buildup of fluid in the center of your retina. This buildup causes the macula to swell, resulting in distorted vision. Diabetes can lead to this condition, which may lead to partial or total blindness if not treated properly.
A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens. These lenses help us see clearly and sharply. While your lenses become cloudier over time with age, diabetics are more likely to develop cataracts at earlier ages. Symptoms may include blurred vision and difficulty seeing in low light.
Glaucoma is a term that includes a variety of eye diseases that negatively affect the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. Unfortunately, diabetic patients are twice as likely to suffer from glaucoma. This condition can lead to vision loss if not treated early or properly.
What To Watch For
If you’re diabetic, or if your doctor has said you’re prediabetic, it’s important to look out for the most common symptoms of diabetic eye disease. The earlier you catch these symptoms, the more you can do to fix them (or, at the very least, slow their progress). These are among the most common symptoms of diabetic eye disease:
- Blurry vision
- Dark areas in your line of sight
- Poor color vision
- Spots or strings (often called “floaters”)
- Flashes of light
The Long & Short Of It
Diabetes has both short and long-term impacts on vision.
In the short term, people may suffer from temporary blurred vision while changing care plans or medicines. Higher glucose levels can lead to swelling and vision problems, but this usually dissipates when the swelling goes down.
If your glucose levels remain high for extended periods of time, blood vessels in your eyes can be damaged. This damage may even occur during prediabetic stages. The new blood vessels that replace damaged ones may grow poorly, resulting in bleeding within the eye, scarring, or high pressure.
People with various causes of blood sugar problems should have annual eye exams. These examinations are important to monitor eye health. At Gilbert Eyecare, our doctors are well-versed in diabetic eye care, sending notes of each exam are to your providers to ensure seamless collaboration of care.