Whether you have diabetes or have a loved one who suffers from this chronic condition, the potential for developing eye problems is likely to be a concern.
Diabetics are more likely to develop eye problems than those without the condition. In this brief overview, we’ll explore the link between diabetes and eye problems, explain five of the most common issues and how to spot the early signs.
What Is Diabetic Eye Disease?
Diabetic eye disease is a group of eye problems that can develop in individuals with diabetes. If left untreated, these conditions can damage the eye, diminish vision and ultimately lead to blindness.
The best way to prevent diabetic eye disease is to manage your diabetes carefully. Monitor and maintain healthy blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol, and make healthy lifestyle choices such as not smoking.
Early identification of eye problems is key to preventing long-term damage. Everyone who has diabetes and is aged 12 or over should have an annual diabetic eye screening to ensure early detection and treatment of any issues that arise.
How Diabetes Can Affect the Eyes
In diabetics, the body doesn’t make enough insulin or cannot use it efficiently. As a result, too much blood sugar remains in the bloodstream. This is true of both type one and type two diabetes.
Over time, this can damage the blood vessels that lead to the retina — the light-sensitive layer of cells at the back of the eye. The retina needs a constant supply of blood to remain healthy. If the blood vessels become damaged, eye problems can result.
Common Eye Problems With Diabetes
- Diabetic Retinopathy
This is a complication of diabetes, which if left untreated can cause blindness. Unfortunately, there are often no symptoms in the early stages of this condition. This is why regular eye screening is essential.
During a screening, the doctor will take photographs of your eyes. By scrutinising the images taken, your medical professional can spot the early signs of diabetic retinopathy and recommend a suitable treatment.
Treatment may include laser eye surgery, injections of medication into the eyes or an operation to clear any scar tissue or blood from the eyes.
- Blurred Vision
High blood sugar levels can cause the eye lens to swell, leading to blurry vision.
This is often a temporary condition and will rectify itself when blood sugar levels return to the target range (for diabetics this is 4 to 7 mmol/L before meals and under 9 or 8.5 mmol/L two hours after eating). However, it can take as long as three months for vision to return to normal.
It’s always best to seek medical advice if there are any changes in your eyesight. A doctor can ascertain the cause and recommend the most appropriate treatment.
Cataracts are cloudy patches that form in the lens of the eye. If left untreated, cataracts can grow to cover more of the lens resulting in blurred vision and eventually blindness.
As you age, the lenses of your eyes become less flexible, less transparent and thicker. When you have diabetes, high blood sugar levels over time can lead to structural changes in the lenses that can accelerate the development of cataracts. If you have diabetes, you might be at greater risk for developing cataracts, depending on how long you’ve had it, how often your blood glucose levels are above your target range, and if you have fluid build-up in the macula (located at the back of the retina). You may not notice cataracts at first, as symptoms can be minor until clouding affects the centre of the eye, at which point the cataract can progress rapidly. Symptoms include cloudy or blurred vision, spots in your vision, a yellow tinge to your vision and seeing rings of light around lights.
Cataracts can typically be removed during day surgery.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can cause vision loss and blindness by damaging the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. This is usually caused by excess fluid that builds up, increasing the pressure inside the eye.
There are often no symptoms of glaucoma in the early stages. As a diabetic, you should be tested for glaucoma annually.
Treatments include eye drops, laser surgery and trabeculectomy surgery.
Diabetic maculopathy is a type of diabetic eye disease that affects the back of the retina, also known as the macula. The macula helps the eye focus on fine details, for example, when we are reading, writing or recognising faces.
Maculopathy happens when the blood vessels in the macula become leaky or blocked. If the leaked fluid accumulates at the macula, it will leak into the retina and cause swelling, known as maculopathy.
A more severe condition is ischaemic maculopathy. This occurs when the blood vessels in the macula become so constricted that the supply of oxygen and nutrition to the macula is severely reduced. As a result, there is a more significant loss of vision.
There are several ways to treat diabetic maculopathy — laser treatment and injections of drugs known as anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (Anti-VEGF) into the eye. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for ischaemic maculopathy.
The Importance of Diabetic Eye Screening
Many of the above conditions are treatable if diagnosed early. However, there are often no symptoms in the early stages, which is why regular eye screenings are so important. If you’re concerned about your eyes, get in touch with our friendly team today and book an appointment at our eye clinic.