People with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk of eye disorders, such as glaucoma and cataracts. Diabetes can also damage small blood vessels in the retina, resulting in a condition known as diabetic retinopathy. Almost 2 million Canadians suffer from diabetic retinopathy, which is the most frequent cause of blindness. But the good news is that you can prevent complications and preserve vision by managing sugar levels and regular eye check-ups.

Diabetes Eye Problems Symptoms

The initial stage of diabetes eye problems usually does not have any symptoms. In later stages, some symptoms may include:

  • Dark strings or spots floating in your vision (floaters)
  • Impaired color vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Vision loss
  • Empty or dark areas in vision

Diabetes Related Eye Problems

In diabetes, the body cannot produce or use insulin effectively, increasing its level in blood. High sugar levels that persist for longer duration can block tiny blood vessels that supply the retina, hindering its nutrition. To overcome this, the eye tries to produce new blood vessels. However, these vessels do not form properly and thus can leak easily. 

The four common diabetes-related eye problems are:

Diabetic Retinopathy

The inner lining of the back of the eye is known as the retina. It senses the light and converts them into signals that can be perceived by the brain. The damaged or injured blood vessel can harm the retina, resulting in diabetic retinopathy.

There are two types of diabetic retinopathy:

  • Early diabetic retinopathy: It is also known as non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR), a condition where new blood vessels are not being generated. In NPDR, the blood vessels in the retina get weak, and tiny protrusions emerge from blood vessels, which leak blood and fluid in the retina. Larger vessels may also dilate and become irregular in their diameter. The condition could worsen if many blood vessels are blocked. The swelling of nerve fibers may also be present.
  • Advanced diabetic retinopathy: Early diabetic retinopathy can progress to a severe type where blood vessels start proliferating. In this condition, damaged blood vessels shut, resulting in the growth of new blood vessels in the retina, which can leak in the vitreous (clear, jelly-like substance present in the center of the eye). Gradually, the growth of new vessels results in a scar, causing the retina to detach.

Diabetic Macular Edema

The portion of the retina that one needs for driving, reading, and seeing faces is the macula. Abnormal blood sugar levels in diabetes can result in swelling in the macula, a condition known as macular edema. This condition can also hamper the sharp vision in the macula, resulting in blindness or partial vision loss. Diabetic macular edema is generally seen in individuals with other signs of diabetic retinopathy.

Cataracts

The natural lenses within the eye aids in sharp vision, which gets cloudy as one age. High sugar levels can result in deposits in the lenses of the eye. Individuals with diabetes are thus at a higher risk of developing cloudy lenses, a condition known as cataracts. They can also develop cataracts at an earlier age than the normal population.

Glaucoma

It is a group of eye disorders that damage the nerve connecting the eye to the brain (optic nerve). Diabetes doubles the risk of glaucoma, which can cause blindness if not managed early.

Diabetes Eye Problems Prevention

Taking certain precautions could lower the risk of diabetic retinopathy and prevent vision loss.

Some precautions include:

  • Regular monitoring of blood glucose levels: It helps the doctor to understand the condition. Frequent check-ups could be required if you are stressed. 
  • Manage diabetes: Include physical activity and a healthy diet in your daily routine. Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, such as walking, per week. Take medications as advised by the doctor.
  • Maintain blood pressure and cholesterol levels: Eating healthy and regular workouts can help here. In certain cases, medications could be required to manage them.
  • Stop smoking and limit the intake of alcohol: smoking and excess alcohol consumption increases the risk of diabetes complications, including retinopathy.
  • Monitor vision changes: Visit the doctor immediately if you notice vision changes, such as hazy, blurry, or spotty vision.

Diabetes Eye Problems Treatment

The doctor may plan to treat diabetes 1 or diabetes 2 eye problems with medications, surgery, or both.

Medications

They include anti-vascular endothelial growth factor medications, such as Bevacizumab, Flibercept, or Ranibizumab. These medications combat the leakage of fluid and the growth of abnormal blood vessels in your eyes. The doctor will inject these medications during the office visit—anti-VEGF treatments aids in managing macular edema and prevent vision loss.

Surgery

  • Photocoagulation: It is a laser treatment, which is also known as focal laser treatment. Photocoagulation can slow or stop the leakage of fluid and blood in the eye. In this treatment, the abnormal vessels are managed with laser burns.
  • Cataract lens surgery: Here, the doctor replaces the cloudy lens in the eye with an artificial lens.
  • Vitrectomy: During this procedure, a tiny incision is made in the eye to remove any scar tissue in the retina and blood from the vitreous.

Eyes need care, especially if you have diabetes. Make sure to manage the condition proactively with your doctor and ophthalmologist to lower the risk of diabetes related eye complications.

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