How Diabetes Can Affect Your Eyes

About 100 million people in the U.S. have diabetes or prediabetes, according to the CDC, and that means all those individuals are also at an increased risk for developing eye diseases and vision problems. In fact, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy (DR), diabetic macular edema (DME) and cataracts are so common among people with diabetes, they’re now collectively referred to as diabetic eye disease.

Because vision problems occur so often among men and women with diabetes, at Paragon Eye Center, we use state-of-the-art testing equipment and technology to identify these diseases in their earliest stages so each patient can receive the most appropriate care as soon as possible. Early detection is the key to preventing the progression of eye diseases, and it’s also the key to preserving good vision. If you have diabetes or you’re at risk for developing the disease, here’s what you should know about these eye and vision problems.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a disease that affects your optic nerve, the nerve that sends information about the objects you see to your brain, where that information is processed and “translated” into the images we recognize. Most times, glaucoma occurs when pressure inside the eye increases and the nerve (located at the back of the eye) becomes compressed and damaged. People with diabetes are about twice as likely to develop glaucoma. Several techniques are used to look for signs of glaucoma, including special tests designed to painlessly measure the pressure inside your eye. Sometimes, glaucoma can occur even without an increase in eye pressure. Glaucoma typically is treated with medication to help lower the pressure inside your eye. In some cases, surgery may be required to improve drainage inside your eye or to prevent the growth of new, tiny vessels that can block your vision. Glaucoma rarely causes early symptoms, and many people don't know they have glaucoma until they experience permanent vision loss. For this reason, glaucoma is sometimes called the “silent thief of sight.”

Diabetic retinopathy

DR is the most common diabetic eye disease. The disease occurs when tiny blood vessels start to grow in the retina, the light-sensitive portion of your eye located at the very back of the eyeball. These tiny vessels block light and prevent it from reaching the optic nerve. Because they’re weaker than normal vessels, they can also leak fluids, distorting your vision. As the disease progresses, the new vessels can cause scarring and destroy the light-gathering cells that make up the retina. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), between 40 percent and 45 percent of diabetics have some stage of DR, but only about half are aware they have it. Diabetic retinopathy cannot be cured, but it can be managed with surgery or injections of special medicines designed to prevent new blood vessels from forming.

Diabetic macular edema

DME occurs when tiny blood vessels inside your eye begin to leak blood and other fluid, causing swelling in the central part of your retina (called the macula). The macula is responsible for our central vision. If the macula is damaged, it can make it difficult to perform many of the activities we take for granted, like reading, using a computer, watching TV or even recognizing faces. DME most commonly occurs as a “side effect” of diabetic retinopathy. According to the NEI, about half of all people with DR will go on to develop DME as well. Like DR, DME causes few (if any) symptoms until vision becomes permanently affected. DME can be treated (but not cured) with surgery or with injections or implants of special medications designed to prevent blood vessel leakage.

Cataracts

Cataract is a condition that occurs when your eye’s natural lens becomes clouded over. Clouding occurs when proteins inside the lens begin to clump together, causing the lens to become opaque. In their early stages, cataracts can make your vision cloudy or make it difficult to see or read without very bright light. Colors also may appear less vivid. The only way to treat a cataract is to remove it with surgery. Once the cloudy damaged lens is removed, an artificial lens is inserted in its place.

Are you at risk for diabetic eye disease?

If you have diabetes or if you're at risk for the disease, being screened is vitally important for diagnosing diabetic eye disease in its earliest stages. To learn more about diabetic eye disease diagnosis and treatment at Paragon Eye Center or to schedule an exam, contact the practice today.

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