Diabetes and Visual Health

Risk factors for diabetic eye disease

Although all people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are at risk for developing diabetic eye disease, the longer a person has diabetes, the more likely they are to develop vision problems, particularly if the diabetes is poorly controlled.

  • Race — Hispanic and African Americans are at greater risk for developing diabetic retinopathy.
  • Medical conditions — persons with other medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, are at greater risk.
  • Pregnancy — pregnant women face a higher risk for developing diabetic retinopathy.

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Symptoms of diabetic eye disease

According to Prevent Blindness America, symptoms of diabetic eye disease may include:RFS - vision with retinopothy

  • Blurry or clouded vision
  • Floaters or dark spots in vision
  • Straight lines that do not appear straight (such as flag poles, street lights, etc.)
  • Difficulty seeing in dim light or at night
  • Tunnel vision
  • Having a dark or empty spot in the center of your vision

Early detection and treatment can limit the potential for significant vision loss from diabetic eye disease.

How does diabetes damage your vision?

In patients with diabetes, prolonged periods of high blood sugar are the primary cause of vision complications. Better control of blood sugar levels in patients with diabetes slows the onset and progression of diabetic eye disease. You can also help prevent, or slow, the development of diabetic eye disease by taking your prescribed medication, sticking to your diet, exercising regularly, controlling high blood pressure, and avoiding alcohol and smoking.

The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) showed that control of blood sugar levels slows the onset and progression of diabetic eye disease. Better control also reduces the need for sight-saving laser surgery.

High glucose levels affect the eyes by:

Causing an accumulation of fluid behind the lens which changes its curvature and results in blurred vision. This blurring may subside once glucose levels are brought under control.

Diabetic retinopathy is the result of damage to the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina. These vessels leak blood and other fluids that cause retinal tissue to swell and cloud vision.

Fluid can also leak into the macula, resulting in blurred vision. This condition is called macular edema. It can occur at any stage of diabetic retinopathy, although it is more likely to occur as the disease progresses. About half of the people with advanced cases of retinopathy also have macular edema.

The eyes may attempt to improve blood circulation in the retina by forming new blood vessels on its surface. These fragile blood vessels can leak blood into the back of the eye and block vision. The condition usually affects both eyes.

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