Diabetes and Your Vision Health

I know, and I’m friends with, people who live with diabetes. You probably know someone too. Whether you have the disease, know someone who does, or if you have friends and family who could be at risk, the following information may be good to know and good to share.

November is named and observed as Diabetes Awareness Month to bring attention to the disease and the millions of people affected by it. We’d like to join this effort from the perspective of your vision health, as your vision benefits provider.

How vision is connected

Diabetes can lead to vision problems, and it’s the leading cause of blindness, and vision impairment, among adults. What’s important to remember, and what I hope, if anything, you take away from this information is this – a comprehensive eye exam can detect diabetes early and catch early signs of eye conditions. How? By looking closely at the blood vessels in your eyes. As explained by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, “too much glucose in the blood for a long time can cause damage in many parts of the body” and this includes the small blood vessels in your eyes. Those with diabetes should have comprehensive eye exams at least every year, even if there are no signs of vision problems. Eye exams are recommended for everyone, every one to two years.

Eye conditions

The most common eye conditions associated with diabetes are cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. Of those, diabetic retinopathy is the most common and the most serious.

Cataracts

If you have diabetes, your chance of developing cataracts increases by 60 percent. This condition, the clouding of the lens of your eye, is mostly associated with the aging process, but if you have diabetes, you could develop cataracts at a younger age. Cataracts can also progress faster with people who are diabetic. There are steps you can take to prevent cataracts, like wearing sunglasses often, but discuss more options with your eye doctor.

Glaucoma

Your risk of developing glaucoma increases by 40 percent if you have diabetes. Glaucoma is the result of pressure building up in the eye. If glaucoma is not treated, it can lead to blindness. There are different types of glaucoma, and it is another condition that can be detected with a comprehensive eye exam.

Diabetic retinopathy

This condition has different types and different stages. There is also a condition called diabetic macular edema (DME) that is a consequence of diabetic retinopathy. While we won’t get too technical or detailed right now, the term diabetic retinopathy refers to “disorders to the retina caused by diabetes” or when high blood sugar levels cause damage to blood vessels in your retina. It’s the most common eye condition for people with diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, the longer you have diabetes, the more likely this condition will develop. Unfortunately, the association also states that “almost everyone” with type 1 diabetes, and “most people” with type 2, will eventually have diabetic retinopathy. But, as stated before, regular eye exams and early detection are crucial with this condition.

Be aware of the signs

With diabetic retinopathy, the early symptoms might go unnoticed. If you have any of the following signs of eye problems, see your eye doctor right away.

  • Blurry vision
  • Cloudy vision
  • Double vision
  • Pain or pressure felt in one or both of your eyes
  • Dark spots

This is not a complete list of symptoms, so have a discussion with your eye doctor if any or other signs occur.

Schedule an eye exam

Talking with a primary source – your eye doctor or medical doctor – can be the most helpful and impactful in terms of your path forward. Being aware of the disease, associated eye conditions and other knowledge about your vision health can make a difference in your overall health and the health of those around you. But whether you have diabetes or not, scheduling a comprehensive eye exam is highly recommended.

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