If you have diabetes, you already know the importance of managing your blood sugar and maintaining a healthy weight.
But what about your eyes? People with diabetes face a higher risk of blindness, and there are many diabetic eye problems that can cause blurred vision and other impairments.
The good news is that with regular visits to your eye doctor and a healthy lifestyle, diabetes and clear vision can go hand in hand!
What Is Diabetic Retinopathy (DR)?
Diabetic retinopathy — the leading cause of blindness in people with diabetes — occurs when chronically high blood sugar damages the blood vessels in your retina. This causes the vessels to leak, which leads to retinal swelling and vision impairment.
There are two basic forms of diabetic retinopathy.
Nonproliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (NPDR)
Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) occurs when retinal blood vessels begin to weaken and swell.
Blood and other fluids can leak into the macula, the portion of your retina which is responsible for your central vision. If left untreated, you may develop diabetic macular edema (DME), which can cause lost or blurred vision.
Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (PDR)
Advanced diabetic retinopathy leads to aggressive proliferation of new blood vessels that invade your retina and vitreous gel. They are substantially weaker than normal blood vessels and more likely to burst and leak. Scar tissue forms, which distorts the retina and may lead to retinal detachment.
What Are the Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy often has no obvious symptoms in its earliest stages. That’s why everyone with diabetes should get a regular eye exam. Early detection is your best bet for early intervention and preserving good vision.
As retinopathy progresses, you may begin to notice some of the following symptoms:
- Blurred vision
- Dark or empty spot in the center of your vision
- Difficulty seeing at night
What Are the Risk Factors for Diabetic Retinopathy?
Most people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes eventually get nonproliferative retinopathy, although proliferative retinopathy is less common.
Here are some other factors that can affect your risk:
- Chronically high blood sugar
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Ethnicity — Hispanic and African American patients have a higher risk
- Pregnancy — Women with gestational diabetes can develop retinopathy
Besides getting a regular eye test, there are several things you can do to manage your risk and minimize the severity of diabetic retinopathy:
- Take your medication
- Stick to your diet
- Exercise regularly
- Control high blood pressure
- Don’t smoke
- Limit alcohol intake
Other Vision Care Issues: Glaucoma, Cataracts, and Diabetes
Besides diabetic retinopathy and macular edema, diabetes leads to an elevated risk of other common vision problems:
- Glaucoma. People with diabetes are 40% more likely to get glaucoma, which causes a pressure build-up in the eye that can damage the retina and optic nerve. Your risk also increases with age.
- Cataracts. With cataracts, your lens becomes clouded, which blocks light and causes distorted or blurred vision. People with diabetes are 60% more likely to get cataracts, and they tend to develop cataracts at a younger age than other patients.
- Change in Prescription. When blood sugar levels are elevated over a period of time, your lens inside your eye can swell causing a shift in your glasses prescription. If you notice a lasting change in your prescription, please call your eye doctor right away.
The American Optometric Association recommends an annual eye exam for all people with diabetes. With a comprehensive eye exam, your optometrist can detect signs of DR even before you notice any symptoms.
There are several options available for the treatment of retinopathy and other diabetic eye conditions, but early detection is the key.
Contact Springfield Family Vision to schedule your annual eye check-up. Dr. Katie looks forward to joining your diabetes care team and helping you maintain healthy eyesight for years to come!