Managing Your Diabetic Eye Disease
November is diabetic eye disease awareness month. Diabetic eye diseases are a group of eye complications that can develop in patients diagnosed with diabetes. While the body struggles to break down sugar naturally and glucose levels increase, the eyes can become susceptible to damaged blood vessels. As a result, diabetic patients might develop eye diseases that can lead to moderate to severe vision loss if left untreated.
Common Diabetic Eye Diseases
- Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in patients with diabetes. High blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels, cutting the retina from its normal blood supply. When this occurs, abnormal blood vessels can form and swell, potentially leaking fluid into the retina. If left untreated, retinal detachment and permanent vision loss can occur. Type 1 and Type 2 diabetic patients are at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.
- Diabetic Macular Edema. The macula is important for seeing fine details. When diabetes causes swelling in this part of the retina, it is referred to as diabetic macular edema (DME). As a result of swelling, visual clarity is hindered, and the risk of vision loss is increased. DME usually develops in patients with diabetic retinopathy.
- Glaucoma is caused by a group of eye problems that can damage the optic nerve. When abnormal blood vessels grow in the eye of a diabetic patient, they can block the space where fluid normally drains from the eye. Fluid buildup can increase pressure in the eye, leading to moderate to severe vision loss. Patients with diabetes are two times more likely to develop glaucoma than those without diabetes.
- Cataracts. High blood sugar levels can increase the risk of cataracts (cloudy ocular lens). The development of cataracts is normal with aging; however, patients with diabetes are more likely to develop cataracts at a younger age.
Managing your Diabetic Eye Disease
Anyone with diabetes is at risk of developing some form of eye disease. Leaving blood pressure and blood glucose levels unchecked and untreated can increase your likelihood of developing an eye disease even greater. Additionally, patients who are obese, chronic smokers, or pregnant women with gestational diabetes are also at risk. Symptoms of diabetic eye disease include, but are not limited to:
- Vision loss
- Blurry or wavy vision
- Flashes and floaters
- Poor visual clarity (dark/dull vision)
Treatment for diabetic eye disease depends on the disease and how far along it has progressed. Diabetic patients who notice changes in their vision or the sudden onset of flashes and floaters should immediately schedule a consultation with a retinal specialist. There, they can perform a comprehensive dilated eye exam to determine if the symptoms result from progressive eye disease. Medicines, laser treatments, or surgery might be recommended if the ophthalmologist determines that the eye disease has advanced to a harmful stage.
Taking care of your health and managing your diabetes is the best way to prevent diabetic eye disease. Keeping your blood sugar levels at a healthy range, keeping up with your regularly scheduled eye exams, taking your prescribed medications, and living a healthy lifestyle are a few ways to do so.