Learning More About: Diabetic Eye Problems

How does diabetes affect vision? What does diabetes mean for eyesight?

Diabetes Overview:

Diabetic glucose meter

Diabetes is a disease that affects the way we process food for energy and growth. With all forms of diabetes – type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes – the body has trouble converting sugar in the blood into energy, resulting in a host of potential health problems.

Diabetes can lead to a number of eye disorders, including cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy; an eye disease that affects the blood vessels in the all-important retina. This is the most common eye disorder among people with diabetes.

Since the retina is the light-sensitive region of the back of the eye responsible for processing visual images, diabetic retinopathy can affect your vision in mild, moderate or even severe ways.

Nearly 45 percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy – and it is one of the primary reasons a comprehensive eye exam is strongly recommended each year for people diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes and Vision:

Diabetes increases the likelihood that common diabetes-related vision problems or diseases might occur.

Diabetics are prone to developing cataracts (a clouding of the eye's lens) at an earlier age, for example. And people with diabetes are almost 50% more likely to develop glaucoma, an eye disorder that damages the optic nerve often marked by an increase of internal eye pressure.

Macular edema (and macular degeneration) are also more common in diabetics due to malfunctioning blood vessels inside the macula – the middle region of the retina responsible for central, sharp vision.

That's why there's no separating diabetes and vision. If you have diabetes, then you should understand vision problems that increase in likelihood as a result of the disease.

Diabetes and Eye Sight.

You can't have a discussion about diabetic eye problems without considering diabetic retinopathy, the most common diabetic eye disease and a leading contributor to blindness for adults in America.

Diabetic retinopathy involves swelling, leaking or abnormal growth of blood vessels in or near the retina. There are multiple stages to this disease, the earliest of which may not present any symptoms you can see.

Symptoms you can see include dark or black spots in your vision that increase over time, or severely blurred vision due to bleeding within the eye.

That's why comprehensive eye exams are so important when thinking about diabetes and eye sight – both type 1 and type 2 diabetics are at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy, and the longer you have diabetes, the more likely you are to develop some form of the disease.

Treatments for diabetic retinopathy include replacement of the inner gel inside the eye (called a vitrectomy) and different kinds of laser surgery. A recent clinical trial also suggested that better control of blood sugar levels slows the onset and progression of the disease in many patients.

Diabetes Statistics:

Over 21 million people in the United States have diabetes, with an estimated additional 6 million people unaware they have a form of the disease. What's more, an estimated 54 million Americans ages 40 to 74 have pre-diabetes, a condition that puts them at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Culturally, diabetes is three-times more likely among those of us with Hispanic heritage. In fact, one in ten Hispanic people have diabetes. Among Asian Americans between the ages of 45 and 65, diabetes is the fifth leading cause of death. Because Asian Americans are less likely to be obese, doctors are often late with the diagnosis. So regular eye exams are very important, since eye exams can often lead to early diagnosis of health issues like diabetes, hypertension and other conditions that impact all of us.

According to a recent American Optometric Association survey, diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults ages 20 to 74.

The information seen here is for reference purposes only and is not intended as medical advice or to diagnose or prescribe any specific treatment(s). For all questions and concerns about your vision, eye health and potential eye problems, please consult an eyecare professional.

Special thanks to the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, for source material that aided in the creation of this website. Visit the NEI/NIH website.

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