Of the approximately thirty million American adults living with diabetes, it is estimated that over seven million are affected by diabetic eye disease. If left untreated, diabetic eye disease can lead to permanent vision impairment or vision loss.
Newly diagnosed cases of diabetes in America are rising each year, which is why the American Academy of Ophthalmology recognizes November as Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month. If you or a loved one has diabetes, this month can be a good time to learn about diabetic eye disease, the symptoms of the disease, and what you can do to protect the quality and clarity of your vision.
Keep reading to learn how to prevent diabetes from damaging your vision during diabetes eye disease awareness month!
What is Diabetic Eye Disease?
Diabetic eye disease is a group of eye conditions that occur as a complication of diabetes. These conditions include diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, diabetic macular degeneration, and glaucoma.
Diabetic retinopathy is caused by changes to the blood vessels in the retina, usually due to poorly controlled blood sugar. These changes include swollen and leaking blood vessels in the retina, as well as the growth of abnormal blood vessels on the surface of the retina.
People with diabetes are at higher risk for developing cataracts, which is the clouding of the usually transparent lens of the eye. Diabetic macular edema (DME) is another complication of diabetes that affects the retina.
It is caused by leaking blood vessels in the retina, leading to swelling or edema in the macula, which is the central area of the retina responsible for sharp vision.
High blood sugar levels from uncontrolled diabetes cause the blood vessels to leak. The macula swells with fluid, distorting and blurring central vision.
While anyone can develop glaucoma, having diabetes increases your risk of developing the condition. Glaucoma is also caused by a buildup of pressure within the eye, which can permanently damage the optic nerve.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Diabetic Eye Disease?
As most forms of diabetic eye disease are painless as they develop, changes in vision are often the first sign of the presence of these conditions. Common signs and symptoms include:
- Distorted vision
- Frequent changes in visual clarity, sometimes even day-to-day
- The sudden appearance of floaters and flashers
- Changes in color perception
- Dark spots or areas with the field of vision
- Tunnel vision
- Vision loss
These signs and symptoms most often worsen over time.
How is Diabetic Eye Disease Treated?
How diabetic eye disease is treated depends on a person’s individual diagnosis. Often, the goal of treatment is to prevent further vision impairment or loss.
Special eye drops or other medications to reduce pressure within the eye or stop the growth of abnormal blood vessels can be used for diabetes patients with diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. Other medications can stop fluid leaks, making them an effective treatment for diabetic macular degeneration.
In some cases, laser treatments or surgery can help control the progression of diabetic eye disease. Like other treatments, these procedures aim to reduce pressure and eliminate problematic blood vessels within the eye.
For people who develop cataracts as a complication of diabetes, opting for cataract surgery can help affect vision affected by a cloudy lens. During this procedure, the natural lens of the eye is removed and replaced with an artificial lens.
Additionally, cataracts cannot regrow on the artificial lens.
Can Diabetic Eye Disease Be Prevented?
The best way to prevent the development of a diabetic eye disease is to be proactive about managing a person’s diabetes. Diabetic eye disease is more likely to develop in people with poorly controlled diabetes.
For both the health of their eyesight and their overall health, people with diabetes should be sure to monitor and control their blood sugar, eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and schedule annual comprehensive eye exams. The tests performed at annual eye exams are the best way to catch diabetic eye diseases early when treatment can be most successful.
Are you experiencing vision changes? Schedule an appointment at Shepherd Eye Center at one of our 5 locations in Las Vegas or Henderson, NV, today!