November is Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, a month intended to spread awareness and provide education and resources to the millions of Americans who are at risk for (or are currently battling) diabetic eye disease. According to the CDC, 34.2 million Americans have diabetes and millions are in danger of developing it within the year. Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disease that results in dangerously high blood sugar. Insulin helps your body turn glucose (blood sugar) into energy, but if you’re diabetic, your body either isn’t making enough insulin or can’t effectively use the insulin it does make. Diabetics are at risk for nerve damage, skin problems, kidney disease, high blood pressure, stroke, andCOVID-19 complications. While Americans might be familiar with a few symptoms of diabetes, not many are aware of the disease’s devastating effects on eye health. Diabetics are at higher risk for permanent vision loss, glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic eye disease is no joke, but early detection (by way of an annual dilated eye exam) and timely treatment can go a long way in preventing or mitigating damage.
How Diabetes Negatively Affects Your Eyes
Diabetes greatly increases your risk of developing cataracts. Acataract is a clouding of the lens of your eye and can cause cloudy vision, halos, light sensitivity, double vision, decreased night vision, etc. Unfortunately, diabetics tend to develop cataracts at a younger age and their cataracts progress faster. Many cataract patients seek surgery to restore their vision, but coexisting diabetic eye disease puts an additional stress on the eye and can increase the risk of complications during surgery.
Diabetic retinopathy is a general term for all disorders of the retina and can develop in anyone with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. This condition is caused by damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye (retina). Too much sugar in your blood can damage the eye’s tiny blood vessels, resulting in blood and other fluids leaking onto the retina. In an attempt to correct this, the eye will generate problematic new blood vessels. Because these new vessels don’t develop properly, they leak easily and can lead to scarring and cell loss.
There are two types of diabetic retinopathy: early diabetic retinopathy (nonproliferative, or NPDR)and advanced (proliferative). The most common type is nonproliferative, in which new blood vessels aren’t proliferating, or growing. Instead, capillaries in the back of the eye balloon and form leaky pouches. NPDR can move through three stages: mild, moderate, or severe. As this condition progresses, the central part of the retina (macula) can begin to swell, resulting in a condition called macular edema. Without treatment, macular edema can cause permanent vision loss.
In proliferative retinopathy, the eye grows new, abnormal blood vessels to replace the ones that have closed off. As mentioned before, these vessels can leak blood into the clear gel that fills the center of your eye (the vitreous) and cause scar tissue to grow. When the scar tissue shrinks, it can lead to retinal detachment. Treatment for diabetic retinopathy can include laser treatment to seal off leaky, damaged vessels or a vitrectomy for more advanced cases.
Diabetics have a much higher risk of developingglaucoma, and the longer they’ve had diabetes, the more common it is. Glaucoma happens when pressure builds up in the eye and the pressure pinches the blood vessels that carry blood to the retina and optic nerve. This can be caused by new blood vessel growth interfering with the normal flow of fluid out of the eye due to proliferative diabetic retinopathy. This damage to the retina and nerve can lead to permanent vision loss. Glaucoma can be treated by pressure-reducing drugs or surgery.
Living With Diabetes? Protect Your Eye Health
To control your diabetes, regularly take your medication as prescribed, stay active, maintain a healthy diet and weight, and refrain from smoking. If you can keep your blood sugar levels under control, your risk of diabetic eye disease will drop considerably.Interested in learning more? Check out ourdeep diveinto diabetes and eye health. Keep in mind that conditions like diabetic retinopathy may causeno symptoms, but can eventually lead to blindness. Thankfully, early protection is possible with a comprehensive eye exam.Schedule an appointment today!