What You Need To Know
If you have diabetes, or if you know someone who does, you may have heard some scary stories about how high blood sugar can affect your eyesight, such as causing blindness. While out of control diabetes is a major problem and can have serious negative effects on your vision, working with your healthcare provider to keep your blood sugar under control and seeing your eye care professional on a regular basis can go a long way in preventing problems. Ninety percent of vision loss due to diabetes can be prevented, but early detection and treatment are critical.
Diabetes is a disease in which your body either can’t produce enough insulin (the hormone that controls blood sugar) or has lost the ability to use insulin effectively. When blood sugar levels in your body remains high, it can cause damage to your organs and blood vessels, including the small blood vessels found in your eyes.
If you do develop vision problems due to diabetes, our eye physicians can discuss the best treatment options for your particular problem. The most important thing to remember is this: if you are diabetic, get an annual eye exam, even if you are not having any problems. About half of diabetic patients are diagnosed too late for treatment to be effective.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Diabetes can cause blurry vision, as high blood sugar can cause the lens in your eye to swell, putting things out of focus. Once your blood sugar is back under control, your vision should come back to normal, although it may take up to three months.
If you have diabetes you are also at increased risk for developing cataracts, which clouds your lenses. Symptoms of cataracts (link to cataract page) are blurred vision as well as experiencing glare.
Diabetes can also put you at risk for glaucoma (glaw-CO-muh) (link to glaucoma page), which is a buildup of pressure inside the eye. This increased pressure damages the eye’s nerves and blood vessels. Quite often, there are no symptoms of increased pressure until the damage is done. This is why an annual exam is so important.
Damage to the small blood vessels in the back of your eyes due to diabetes can lead to what is known as diabetic retinopathy (say ret-tin-OP-a-thee) This is a very serious condition which involves and includes a condition known as proliferative (say pro-LIF-er-ray-tive) retinopathy. This means that the blood vessels can ‘overgrow’ in the back of the eye due to lack of oxygen. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in American adults.
How Are Diabetic Eye Problems Treated?
First of all, work with your medical provider to get your diabetes under control. If you smoke, get help from your physician to quit for good, as smoking further increases your risk.
If you develop glaucoma, your eye doctor will most likely prescribe medication or special eye drops to lower the pressure inside your eye. An overgrowth of small blood vessels at the back of the eye can often be successfully treated with laser therapy. And cataracts can be surgically removed and the lens replaced with an artificial one. One of our eye specialists will be happy to discuss treatment options with you.
See your eye care professional at least yearly if you are diabetic, and more often if your provider recommends, depending on your condition. Prevention and early treatment are your best defenses to save your vision!