Types of Diabetic Eye Disease
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes put you at higher risk for certain eye diseases and complications that may lead to blindness if left untreated. Diabetic eye disease is a group of eye problems that affect this population. The longer you live with diabetes, the more likely you are to experience vision changes and vision loss.
Diabetes damages the blood vessels in your eye when you have high blood glucose (sugar) levels. While short-term high blood sugar only causes temporary vision changes, such as blurry vision, long-term uncontrolled diabetes can wreak havoc on your eyesight.
The increased blood glucose levels damage the tiny blood vessels in the back of your eye, and these issues can arise before you know you have diabetes or are considered “prediabetic.” The damaged vessels can leak fluid and swell, and new, weak blood vessels grow in their place. These growths can bleed into the middle of the eye, cause scarring and increase eye pressure to dangerous levels.
There are four types of diabetic eye diseases, as follows:
The retina is the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of your eyes. Diabetic retinopathy happens when the damaged blood vessels affect the retina by bulging or leaking into the tissue. Late-stage (proliferative) diabetic retinopathy occurs when the newer, weaker blood vessels “proliferate” or grow on the retina’s surface, causing vision loss. Someone with diabetic retinopathy may see dark or black spots in their field of vision.
Diabetic Macular Edema
The macula is a part of the retina in charge of your central vision. Diabetes complications can cause the macula to swell, leading to diabetic macular edema. Damage caused by this disease includes central vision loss and blindness and often develops after diabetic retinopathy.
This group of eye diseases harms the optic nerve through abnormally high intraocular eye pressure. The optic nerve sends signals from the retina to the brain to transform light into images. People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop glaucoma, which can cause significant vision loss and blindness. Treatments can’t reverse vision loss caused by glaucoma but may prevent further damage.
Cataracts are a normal part of aging for most people and occur when proteins build up inside the eye’s natural lens. However, people with diabetes are more likely to have cataracts at a younger age. This link isn’t fully understood, but scientists believe high blood sugar can cause deposits to clump together in the eye, causing blurry vision, double vision and an opaque appearance. Cataracts are highly curable with cataract surgery.
How to Prevent Diabetic Eye Disease
The best way to prevent diabetic eye disease is to manage diabetes and lead a healthy lifestyle. The “diabetes ABCs” include blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol, and managing these concerns can maintain your ocular health and overall well-being. Eating a good diet and regular exercise can significantly improve your odds of diabetic eye disease. Quitting smoking is another way to prevent these conditions and annual dilated eye exams.
Why You Need Eye Exams
Dilated eye exams are an essential tool in your arsenal that protect your eyes from diabetes complications. These comprehensive exams can identify damage from high blood sugar before you experience symptoms and even before you’re diagnosed with diabetes. Many people don’t know they have diabetes and may experience vision changes or loss before being diagnosed. An eye exam finds these concerns before they cause significant vision loss — when they’re more treatable. Dilated eye exams are crucial for the early diagnosis and treatment of diabetic eye disease.