Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetes is one of the leading causes of irreversible blindness worldwide. In the United States, it is the most common cause of blindness in people under the age of 65. Diabetes can cause a wide range of conditions that impair vision. In addition to reversible and irreversible blurring or loss of vision, diabetes can also increase one’s risk of developing conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma.

Some patients with diabetes do not realize that they have it for several years until they begin to experience symptoms affecting their eyes or vision. Severe diabetic eye disease occurs most frequently among these individuals because they may have had little control, or poor control, of their blood sugar levels during that time.

Complications of diabetes, including those that affect the eyes, can be avoided by:

  • Maintaining a normal weight
  • Maintaining a healthy diet, limiting unhealthy fats and substituting complex carbohydrates for simple carbohydrates
  • Exercising regularly
  • Not smoking
  • Monitoring blood sugars and glycosylated hemoglobin (oxygen carrying protein bonded to blood sugar)
  • Taking diabetes medications as prescribed

Individuals with symptoms of diabetes that affects the eyes may suffer from the following conditions:

Cataract: Some patients with diabetes notice that their vision becomes blurry when they have rapid shifts in their blood sugar levels. Vision is temporarily blurred because the sugar in the blood diffuses into the lens of the eye. This causes it to swell and change the focal point of the eye. Over time, repeated swelling of this type can cause damage to the lens, resulting in a cataract.

Glaucoma: Diabetes can sometimes lead to the development of new blood vessels (neovascularization) in the front compartment of the eye. This process can lead to scarring and closure of the drainage angle of the eye, causing a sudden severe rise in eye pressure and pain. This rapid buildup of eye pressure can result in damage to the delicate optic nerve and must be treated quickly to prevent serious vision loss.

Diabetic Retinopathy: Diabetic retinopathy is caused by damage in the blood vessels of the retina. Blood vessels may swell and leak fluid, or abnormal new blood vessels may grow on the surface of the retina. Often there are no symptoms of the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. Blurred vision may occur when the macula, the part of the retina that provides sharp central vision, swells from leaking fluid. In addition, if new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina, they can bleed into the eye and block vision. Without treatment, diabetic retinopathy can have detrimental effects on vision, and early detection by an ophthalmologist is important for successful treatment. This is why if you are diabetic, it is important to schedule regular appointments with your University Eye Specialists, P.C. ophthalmologist.