Diabetes over time can harm your eyes, resulting in vision loss or even blindness. The good news is that you can prevent vision problems or slow down their progression by managing your diabetes and scheduling routine eye exams.
Diabetes can lead to a number of eye conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, glaucoma, and macular edema, which typically coexists with the former. All of these factors can cause vision loss, but protecting your eyesight can be greatly aided by early diagnosis and treatment.
Diabetes and Your Eyes
The most common cause of blindness in adults of working age is this common eye disease. High blood sugar damages blood vessels in the retina, which is a light-sensitive layer of cells in the back of the eye, resulting in diabetic retinopathy. Blood flow can be stopped or vision can become blurry as a result of swollen and leaking blood vessels. New blood vessels can occasionally form, but they are abnormal and may worsen existing vision issues. Both eyes are typically impacted by diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetic retinopathy can strike anyone with type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy). The likelihood of developing diabetes increases with duration of diabetes. Additionally, these elements may raise your risk:
- excessively high blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar levels
- consuming tobacco
- Racial/ethnic groups that are more vulnerable include African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and American Indians/Alaska Natives.
Early stage (nonproliferative): The walls of the retina’s blood vessels weaken and enlarge, forming microscopic pouches that your eye doctor can see but you won’t be able to. These pouches have the potential to leak blood and other fluids, which could cause the macula, a region of the retina, to swell (macular edema), blurring your vision. The most frequent cause of blindness in patients with diabetic retinopathy is macular edema. Macular edema develops in about half of diabetic retinopathy patients.
Proliferative stage: During this phase, new blood vessels start to grow in the retina. The vitreous, the transparent gel that lies between the lens and retina, frequently bleeds into these new, delicate vessels. You might notice a few dark spots floating in your vision if there is only slight bleeding. A large amount of bleeding may completely obscure your vision.
Early on, symptoms might go unnoticed. For this reason, it’s critical to have a dilated eye exam at least once a year in order to identify any issues early on, when treatment can be most successful.
In the advanced stage, symptoms may consist of:
- blurry eyesight
- Dark shapes or spots in your field of vision (floaters)
- difficulty seeing color
- Void or dark patches in your field of view
- loss of vision
Your eye doctor will assess your ability to read small print, such as letters or symbols, at a distance during your examination. Along with examining the retina and the inside of your eyes, your doctor might also use a dye to spot any leaky blood vessels. Your eye doctor might want to check your vision more frequently than once a year if it turns out that you have diabetic retinopathy.
If you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you should get checked for diabetic retinopathy right away. If you are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, you should be checked within five years of the diagnosis and then on a regular basis, usually once a year after that. The earlier diabetic retinopathy is treated, the more effective the course of treatment will be.
If you notice changes in your vision, especially if they occur suddenly, give your eye doctor a call. Changes could involve:
- fuzziness of spots and flashes
- blind areas
- Having trouble reading or working in detail
In most cases, treating diabetic retinopathy can reverse eye damage and even prevent blindness. Vision loss can be avoided by beginning treatment before any impairment to your vision occurs. Choices consist of:
- Laser photocoagulation, another name for laser therapy. This produces a scar tissue barrier that inhibits the development of new blood vessels.
- VEGF inhibitors are medications that either reverse or slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy.
- removing the vitreous in its entirety or in part (vitrectomy).
- Retinal reattachment (in cases of retinal detachment, a diabetic retinopathy complication).
- injection of corticosteroid-containing medications.
If you or someone you know has diabetes, please share this information. And if you notice any changes in vision call for an eye examination.
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