For many Americans, diabetes can lead to serious problems with vision. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than 5 million people aged 40 or older have problems with diabetic retinopathy, which will increase to 16 million by 2050. Diabetic retinopathy is an issue concerning vision damage of the retina caused by diabetes, which can lead to the loss of vision. In fact, it is the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults in America. Learning about diabetes and vision can help you avoid vision loss caused by diabetes.
How Does Diabetes Affect Your Vision?
Diabetes can affect your body in various ways. Your eyes are one of those things that can be affected first. But you may wonder how diabetes and vision are related. The following words can help you figure it out.
1. How Does Diabetes Cause Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetes can cause changes in the blood vessels in your body. These changes are most pronounced in the smaller vessels, such as those around your kidneys or your eyes. For some people, these blood vessels might begin to swell and leak fluid. As they do, your vision might become obstructed or distorted. For other people, the problem happens when new, abnormal blood vessels grow on the retina, thus obstructing your view. These changes can be very subtle at first, and you might not even notice them. But over time, the problem becomes worse, and can lead to permanent vision loss, which usually happens in both eyes.
2. How Does Diabetic Retinopathy Affect Your Vision?
Once the blood vessels are damaged or changed, two things can occur. First, those blood vessels can leak blood into the eye, which can lead to blurred vision. This usually happens when the disease is in its final or more serious stages.
The second thing that can happen is macular edema, or when the fluid makes the macula swell, which often goes hand-in-hand with retinopathy. About half the people who have retinopathy also have macular edema. The macula is the part of your eye in which sharp, straight vision happens. It can lead to loss of detailed vision and can impair your ability to see colors.
Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy can include blurry or double vision, and seeing things in your line of sight, such as flashes, rings, blank spots, or dark and floating spots. You might also have trouble with peripheral vision, or seeing things out of the corner of your eye. Pain or pressure in one or both of your eyes can also be felt, whether it is intermittent or continuous.
3. Stages of Vision Loss in Diabetes
In the beginning of diabetes and vision problems, you might suffer from mild nonproliferative retinopathy. This means that your eyes are developing tiny microaneurysms, or areas of swelling in your vessels. The situation goes from “mild” to “moderate” when some of the blood vessels become blocked, increasing the swelling and affecting your vision.
Severe retinopathy happens when your eyes are not getting enough blood, and the body signals to create new blood vessels to try and get the nourishment your eyes need.
In the proliferative stage, the blood vessels are forming and trying to compensate for the loss of blood flow. These thin new blood vessels can leak, causing serious vision problems or permanent blindness.
This video can help you learn more about diabetes and vision:
How to Protect Your Vision
Like most health problems, especially those related to diabetes, prevention is definitely the best cure. Start right now by doing the things you must do to keep your eyes healthy.
1. Get Your Eyes Examined Regularly
Make appointments with your eye doctor every year and have your eyes dilated – this means that your doctor will put drops in your eyes that will open up the pupil and help you see the back of your eyes, where the retinas are. You might also have painless photographs taken of your eyes to show the doctor exactly what is going on back there.
2. Control Your Blood Sugar
If you know you have diabetes, make sure to keep your blood sugar under good control. The better control you have, the less likely you will be to have complications from diabetes. In addition to taking care of this, there are other things you can do to make sure your vision stays great for the rest of your life.
3. Monitor Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels
These two health problems can cause issues with the vessels in your body, including those vessels in your eyes. Keeping blood pressure and cholesterol under good control at all times can help you eliminate the problem.
4. Stop Smoking
If you smoke, now it is the time to quit. Smoking causes problems with the blood vessels, and that can make your risk of eye problems higher. If you are diabetic and you smoke, you are dramatically increasing your risks of a problem.
5. Do Physical Exercise
Try to do some physical exercise. The more you move, the better you feel. The more exercise you get, the more increased blood flow your body enjoys, which can mean better health. So get moving!
Other Eye Diseases Caused by Diabetes
Diabetes doesn’t just cause diabetic retinopathy; there are other problems that can result from uncontrolled blood sugars. Here are just a few:
In this situation, pressure builds up behind the eye, thus injuring the optic nerve. This pressure can lead to blind spots in your eye. You might not notice this until it becomes very severe, but your eye doctor can spot the problems early.
This is a clouding of the lens of your eye, which can make your vision very blurry or cloudy. If you have diabetes, you are likely to develop cataracts at an earlier age than other people might.
- Dry Eye
If you have less tear production, your eyes can become irritated. This can lead to light sensitivity, burning, decreased vision and other issues.
The bottom line is this: Get to your eye doctor and get tested once a year, and if you have diabetes, ask to have your eyes dilated and checked out. If you spot these problems early, you might be able to avoid blindness.