People with diabetes could face eye problems that can lead to vision loss or even blindness.
Problems with the eyes caused by diabetes are called diabetic retinopathy. In general, retinopathy refers to things that harm the eye’s retina.
The retina is a thin layer of light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. When light strikes the retina, it sends a signal to the brain that is turned into images.
There are two major types of diabetic retinopathy. The most common kind is nonproliferative retinopathy, where capillaries in the back of the eye balloon and become blocked.
The most serious kind is proliferative retinopathy, where blood vessels feeding the retina leak, retinal tissue swells and vision becomes cloudy. If not treated, it can cause the retina to detach.
Early warning signs of diabetic retinopathy are:
- Blurred vision
- Spots in your field of vision
- An empty spot in the center of your field of vision
In its earliest stages, there may be no signs. That’s why it’s so vital to have an eye exam each year. Finding out early and getting proper treatment can greatly lower the chance of blindness.
The longer a person has diabetes, the greater the chance of having diabetic retinopathy.
In addition to diabetic retinopathy, there are other eye health problems linked to diabetes.
Diabetic macular edema (DME): With DME, fluid builds up in the macula, which is the middle part of the retina. This part of the eye is vital for focusing eyesight. It controls our ability to read and recognize faces, among other day-to-day uses of sight. It’s estimated that around half of all people with diabetic retinopathy will also get DME.
Cataracts: While common for many older adults, the likelihood of developing cataracts is greater for people with diabetes. And cataracts can develop more quickly and at a younger age if you have diabetes. Cataracts happen when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy and starts to block light.
Glaucoma: People with diabetes also are more likely to get glaucoma. This is when pressure builds up in the eye and harms vessels that carry blood to the optic nerve and retina. Over time, glaucoma can cause blindness.
All of this may sound like bad news. But you can prevent these vision problems by controlling diabetes. Maintain a healthy diet, stay active and take medication as directed by your doctor.
Have an eye exam each year to find vision problems early, when they are simpler to treat. You might even save your eyesight.
The American Diabetes Association offers more facts on eye care for diabetics.
Sources: American Diabetes Association, 2013; “Get An Eye Exam: Arthritis to Cancer Seen in Eye,” ABC News, April 11, 2012; Harvard Health, 2005; YourSightMatters.com