Diabetic Eye Disease Month: How Diabetes Can Affect Eye Health And Vision

Nov 10, 2022
 – Besser Eye Care Team
  • Eye Health

To celebrate diabetic eye disease month, discover how diabetes can affect eye health and vision.

The eye care community recognizes November as diabetic eye disease month.

Throughout the month, physicians, ophthalmologists, and advocates share information about the serious effects diabetes can have on vision, and what patients can do to maintain their eye health.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a systemic disease where the body does not break down blood sugar correctly. A normal body turns sugars into a molecule called glucose and releases it into the bloodstream.

As blood sugar goes up, the body releases insulin, which allows cells to take in glucose and use it as energy.

Patients with diabetes do not produce enough insulin. When the body fails to produce sufficient insulin, glucose stays in the bloodstream. This can lead to long-term health problems like heart disease, kidney disease, and vision loss.

What is diabetic eye disease?

Diabetic eye disease is a group of eye conditions that can affect people with diabetes. They include:

Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease. It is the leading cause of vision loss for people with diabetes. In this condition, high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels in the retina.

These damaged blood vessels can swell, leak, or close up and prevent blood from passing through. If left untreated, these disruptions can cause vision loss.

Patients with high blood sugar are at a greater risk of diabetic retinopathy. The risk of diabetic retinopathy increases the longer a patient has diabetes. The better a patient controls their blood glucose, the longer it takes for diabetes to affect the eyes and the rest of the body.

Diabetic retinopathy symptoms and treatment

Diabetic retinopathy often shows no signs in its early stages. As the diabetic eye disease progresses, patients may notice symptoms like:

  • Floaters

  • Changes in vision

  • Blurry vision

  • Black or dark areas in field of vision

  • Poor night vision

  • Faded or washed out vision

  • Loss of vision

While diabetic retinopathy can have serious consequences, patients can prevent many of them by receiving an early diagnosis and seeking treatment. Patients with diabetes should receive eye checkups every year.

If an eye doctor notices signs of diabetic retinopathy, they may recommend patients take steps to lower blood sugar levels. This can include seeing a nutritionist to get a diet catered to the condition.

Eye Doctors may also recommend steroid or anti-VEGF medications that can reduce swelling and slow down vision loss.

For more advanced cases, patients can opt for laser surgery that reduces swelling and helps shrink blood vessels. Another common surgical treatment is a Vitrectomy. In this procedure, the ophthalmologist removes vitreous gel and blood from the leaking vessels to allow light rays to focus properly on the retina.

Your doctor's recommendations will be based on the findings and severity of the disease at the time of your visit.

Macular edema

Macular edema is a common manifestation of diabetic eye disease where fluid builds up in a part of the retina called the macula. If left untreated, this fluid buildup can lead to swelling, distorted vision, and vision loss.

Many conditions can cause macular edema, but diabetes is one of the most common. High blood sugar levels damage blood vessels and produce leaky fluid that swells up in the macula.

Macular edema symptoms and treatment

Like other diabetic eye diseases, symptoms of macular edema take time to develop and become more severe the longer a patient has diabetes.

Some common symptoms include:

  • Blurred or wavy central vision

  • Seeing different or washed-out colors

  • Difficulty reading

If patients notice any of these symptoms, they should immediately contact their ophthalmologist for help.

The recommended treatment will vary depending on the underlying cause of the disorder. For patients with diabetes, doctors may recommend diet and lifestyle changes to help them control their blood sugar.

Patients can also treat the disorder with Anti-VEGF drugs, steroid treatments, as well as laser and vitrectomy surgery. It is important to follow your doctor's recommendation in order to maximize your visual function.

Diabetes and cataracts

Medical conditions like diabetes can cause cataracts. Outside of aging, diabetes is one of the most common causes of cataracts.

Diabetes-related cataracts often have a faster onset than age-related cataracts.

Patients may need cataract surgery to repair the clouded lenses. In addition to surgery, patients should make necessary dietary changes to control their blood sugar.

Diabetes and glaucoma

Glaucoma is a progressive disease that damages the optic nerve. Having diabetes doubles your chance of developing glaucoma.

Diabetes and other ocular issues

Quick changes in blood sugar affect the shape of the lens and lead to blurry vision. This can cause problems if someone gets glasses or contact prescriptions when their blood sugar is unbalanced.

Diabetes can also lead to double vision by damaging the nerves that help the eyes move and see together.

How diabetics can protect their vision

Couple eating healthy to prevent diabetic eye disease

To remain healthy in diabetic eye disease month and beyond, patients should manage their blood sugar levels. Patients may want to consult with their physician or a nutritionist for suggestions on a proper diet.

Diabetics should make extra efforts to schedule check-ups with their eye doctor. If you’re a diabetic and have not had a recent appointment with an ophthalmologist, set up an appointment ASAP and follow any advice the doctor gives.

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If you live with diabetes and need a specialist experienced in related eye problems, contact us to book an appointment with Eduardo Besser, MD. Our offices are located in Culver City, in Los Angeles County.

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