How Does Diabetes Cause Vision Loss
Uncontrolled or poorly controlled diabetes can damage the blood vessels of the retina, the part of your eye that converts light into electrical signals that allow us to see. Damage to these delicate blood vessels can lead to swelling of the macula, the central part of your retina that allows us to see detail.
Diabetic retinal damage can also lead to bleeding in the eye, scarring, high eye pressure and even retinal detachment. Diabetic retinopathy or diabetic retinal damage is a leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide.
Are People With Diabetes At A Risk Of Diabetic Retinopathy And Going Blind
Every person with diabetes is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. This includes people with type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes .
The duration of diabetes plays a role in determining the extent of the risk. Patients who have had diabetes for longer are more prone to develop retinopathy. Other well established risk factors, include persistent high blood sugar levels, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.
Ethnicity seems to be a complex, independent risk factor for diabetic retinopathy. Some ethnic groups appear to be more affected of diabetic retinopathy than others. Several studies indicate, for example, that the prevalence of diabetic retinopathy is higher in people of South Asian, African, Latin American, and indigenous tribal descent compared to the white population. Alaska Natives and Pacific Islanders may also be at greater risk of losing vision due to diabetes. In a population-based, cross-sectional study in Singapore, Indian Singaporeans seemed to have a higher prevalence of diabetic retinopathy compared with Chinese and Malays.
How Can I Reduce My Risk
For people with diabetes, the best way to protect your eyesight is to keep your blood sugar levels within the recommended target range, or in other words, as close to normal as possible.
In addition to maintaining tight glycemic control, studies have shown that controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels can also reduce the risk of vision loss and improve your overall health.
To find out what your blood sugar levels should be, see our guide on blood sugar level ranges
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What Causes Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy is caused by high blood sugar due to diabetes. Over time, having too much sugar in your blood can damage your retina the part of your eye that detects light and sends signals to your brain through a nerve in the back of your eye .
Diabetes damages blood vessels all over the body. The damage to your eyes starts when sugar blocks the tiny blood vessels that go to your retina, causing them to leak fluid or bleed. To make up for these blocked blood vessels, your eyes then grow new blood vessels that dont work well. These new blood vessels can leak or bleed easily.
What Is Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition that can cause vision loss and blindness in people who have diabetes. It affects blood vessels in the retina .
If you have diabetes, its important to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. Diabetic retinopathy may not have any symptoms at first but finding it early can help you take steps to protect your vision.
Managing your diabetes by staying physically active, eating healthy, and taking your medicine can also help you prevent or delay vision loss.
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What Symptoms Of Diabetic Retinopathy Should I Look Out For
Diabetic retinopathy tends to progress slowly over a period of time often without causing any symptoms. Patients are generally asymptomatic during the initial stages of diabetic retinopathy. In rare cases, people experience a sudden onset of blindness, without any symptoms and no mild vision problems at first.
Patients with severe and irreversible retinal damage may develop a few symptoms such as:
- Pain in the eye
- Blurring of vision, which does not improve even with glasses
- Alternative worsening and improvement of the vision
- Seeing spots, cobwebs, or a hole in the field of vision
- Sudden loss of vision, especially after events like coughing and sneezing
You can read more in our recent blog on how is Diabetic Retinopathy is diagnosed and treated.
Other Types Of Diabetic Eye Disease
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss for people with diabetes. But diabetes can also make you more likely to develop several other eye conditions:
- Cataracts. Having diabetes makes you 2 to 5 times more likely to develop cataracts. It also makes you more likely to get them at a younger age. Learn more about cataracts.
- Open-angle glaucoma. Having diabetes nearly doubles your risk of developing a type of glaucoma called open-angle glaucoma. Learn more about glaucoma.
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Treatments For Diabetic Retinopathy
Treatment for diabetic retinopathy is only necessary if screening detects significant problems that mean your vision is at risk.
If the condition hasn’t reached this stage, the above advice on managing your diabetes is recommended.
The main treatments for more advanced diabetic retinopathy are:
- laser treatment
- injections of medication into your eyes
- an operation to remove blood or scar tissue from your eyes
Diabetes And Vision Loss
Get a dilated eye exam at least once a year to protect your eyesight.
Diabetes can damage your eyes over time and cause vision loss, even blindness. The good news is managing your diabetes and getting regular eye exams can help prevent vision problems and stop them from getting worse.
Eye diseases that can affect people with diabetes include diabetic retinopathy, macular edema , cataracts, and glaucoma. All can lead to vision loss, but early diagnosis and treatment can go a long way toward protecting your eyesight.
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Diabetes & The Eyes Educational Toolkit
The Diabetes & the Eyes Educational Toolkit offers educational materials on diabetes and the impact of diabetes on eye health in both English and Spanish. These educational resources are intended for healthcare professionals, community health educators, diabetes educators, and anyone in a caregiving or diabetes education role.
How Common Is Diabetes
You should know that you are not the only one out there living with diabetes. More than 30 million people in the United States have diabetes. One in four do not know they have diabetes. Diabetes is more common among certain populations such as African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
You are more likely to have diabetes if you are:
- 45 or older
- have a family history of the disease
- high blood pressure
- have excess weight
The good news is that you can manage diabetes by taking good care of yourself through healthy meal planning, regular exercise, and taking medication as prescribed.
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Quit Smoking Or Never Start
Youre probably aware that smoking can cause severe health issues like cancer and heart disease.
You may not know, however, that smokers are also more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes and more likely to experience the diseases which cause vision loss. Smoking increases the risk of diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration which all lead to vision loss or blindness.
Quitting smoking is not easy, but its worth it for your health and improving your chances of keeping your sight well into your golden years.
Get Your Eyes Screened
Eye screening is a way of spotting eye problems before you notice any changes to your sight.
Everyone whos over 12 years old and living with diabetes is entitled to an NHS diabetes eye screening once a year. Its one of your 15 Healthcare Essentials and a vital diabetes health check.
Diabetic retinopathy can become quite advanced before it starts affecting your sight, so that’s why it’s important to go to your regular eye screening appointments. That way, you can get the right treatment in time.
Weve also got more information about what happens during an eye screening, so you can feel prepared going to your appointment.
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How Can You Prevent Diabetic Retinopathy
To prevent or slow the development of diabetic retinopathy:
- Take your prescribed medication
- Control high blood pressure
- Avoid alcohol and smoking
Even controlled diabetes can lead to diabetic retinopathy, so you should have a comprehensive dilated eye examination once a year. That way your doctor can begin treating any retinal damage as soon as possible.
Prevention Is Still The Best Cure
Because there is no cure for diabetes or diabetic retinopathy, the best way to treat these conditions is to stay on top of your health. Taking care of yourself and following your doctors instructions can help you prevent comorbid conditions from developing.
High blood glucose, hypertension, and high ketone levels can increase your risk of retinopathy. As such, managing them is the first step in prevention.
Even though its difficult, eating a healthy diet and exercising will go a long way toward keeping your eyes healthy in the long run. Along with diet and exercise, monitoring your blood sugar levels and taking your medication as prescribed can help as well.
Finally, the importance of frequent eye exams cant be stressed enough.
If you have diabetes, seeing an eye doctor every few months can help you stop retinopathy in its tracks. You should also get a thorough exam with dilation every year. Your doctor may then be able to notice and treat the damage before you experience any symptoms.
Things Doctors Wish Black Women Knew About Diabetes
The CDC reports that one in ten Americans have diabetes. The scarier fact is this: one in three Americans have pre-diabetes. That accounts for about 88 million Americans. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health reports that Black individuals are over twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as white individuals, and over twice as likely to undergo lower limb amputations due to diabetic complications. Most people with pre-diabetes dont know they have it. World Population Review reports that the United States has the third highest number of diabetes cases in the world. Thats not a statistic any country wants to rank top three in. Diabetes increases the risk of many other health conditions, including fatal ones such as heart attack and stroke. In many cases, diabetes is preventable. Thats one reason National Diabetes Awareness Month is so important. There might be a lot of things the human population has no control over, but diabetes isnt one of them.
Know Your Blood Sugar Blood Pressure And Cholesterol Levels
It can be easier to keep your blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control if you know what level they are and monitor them regularly.
The lower you can keep them, the lower your chances of developing retinopathy are. Your diabetes care team can let you know what your target levels should be.
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Risk Factors For Diabetic Retinopathy
- Blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels that are too high.
- Race/ethnicity: African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and American Indians/Alaska Natives are at higher risk.
If you have diabetic retinopathy, low-vision aids such as magnifying glasses and special lenses can help. Ask your eye doctor to refer you to a low-vision specialistexternal icon.
A Long And Healthy Life Full Of Beautiful Sights Is Possible With Diabetes
Millions of Americans live with diabetes. Proper management, staying up to date on screenings and making necessary lifestyle choices can keep you healthy and reduce the risk of vision loss.
Schedule a yearly exam to see your eye care professional.
If youd like information on how your Network Health plan can help you with your eyesight or other health considerations, reach out to us today.
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Can Diabetic Retinopathy Be Reversed All You Need To Know
Both types of Diabetes mellitus are often associated with other serious health concerns.
These comorbid conditions can take the form of nerve damage, wounds that wont heal, and organ failure, just to name a few. Theyre also present more often than not a recent study found that of type II diabetic adults, 97.5% have one or more comorbid disease and 88.5% had two or more.
One comorbid condition that fewer people are familiar with is diabetic eye damage, known as retinopathy. Left untreated, this condition can progress into partial or total blindness.
Can diabetic retinopathy be reversed, and how does it affect your vision and eye health long-term? If youre wondering if theres hope for your diabetic vision loss, read on for the answers to those questions and more.
Prevent Or Delay Eye Diseases
You can protect your vision and lower your chance for vision loss with these steps:
- Get a dilated eye exam at least once a year so your eye doctor can spot any problems early when theyre most treatable.
- Keep your blood sugar levels in your target range as much as possible. Over time, high blood sugar not only damages blood vessels in your eyes, it can also affect the shape of your lenses and make your vision blurry.
- Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in your target range to lower your risk for eye diseases and vision loss. Also good for your health in general!
- Quit smoking. Quitting lowers your risk for diabetes-related eye diseases and improves your health in many other ways too.
- Get active. Physical activity protects your eyes and helps you manage diabetes.
- Ask your doctor for a referral to diabetes self-management education and support services. People who receive less diabetes education are twice as likely to get diabetic retinopathy as people who receive more education.
What Can Be Done For Me If I Have Eye Damage From Diabetes
Your ophthalmologist can perform laser procedures to stop progression of the disease and reduce swelling. Medications may also be injected straight into the eye to help reduce swelling. Surgery is a later resort to clear out blood and remove scar tissue that may be causing the retina to swell or detach.
Stages Of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy has 2 main stages:
Early stage : Blood vessel walls in the retina weaken and bulge, forming tiny pouches . These pouches can leak blood and other fluid, which can cause a part of the retina called the macula to swell and distort your vision. Macular edema is the most common cause of blindness in people with diabetic retinopathy. About half of people with diabetic retinopathy will develop macular edema.
Advanced stage : In this stage, the retina begins to grow new blood vessels. These new vessels are fragile and often bleed into the vitreous . With minor bleeding, you may see a few dark spots that float in your vision. If theres a lot of bleeding, your vision may be completely blocked.
You may not notice symptoms in the early stage. Thats why its very important to get a dilated eye exam at least once a year to catch any problems early when treatment is most effective.
Symptoms in the advanced stage can include:
- Blurry vision
- Dark or empty areas in your vision
- Vision loss
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What Are The Symptoms Of Diabetic Retinopathy
The early stages of diabetic retinopathy usually dont have any symptoms. Some people notice changes in their vision, like trouble reading or seeing faraway objects. These changes may come and go.
In later stages of the disease, blood vessels in the retina start to bleed into the vitreous . If this happens, you may see dark, floating spots or streaks that look like cobwebs. Sometimes, the spots clear up on their own but its important to get treatment right away. Without treatment, the bleeding can happen again, get worse, or cause scarring.
Control Your Blood Sugar
We all know that eating right is good for your health and wellbeing, but eating a balanced diet is critical maintaining your eyesight if you are diabetic.
If your blood sugars are too high, your eyesight will suffer. With simple blood sugar monitoring, you can learn how food will impact your blood sugar level . Talk with your personal doctor and educate yourself on steps to manage your blood sugar, which when applied will help prevent dangerous complications.
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Keep On Top Of Your Cholesterol And Blood Pressure
High blood pressure and a lot of fat in your blood will increase your chances of getting eye problems. This is because your blood vessels can get damaged or blocked, so the blood cant move around your eye properly.
What Other Eye Diseases Are Common Among People Living With Diabetes
Cataract is the clouding of the lens in the eye, which can cause vision to become blurry and colors to become dull. Generally, cataracts are treatable with surgery that can help restore your vision. Aside from aging, diabetes is the most common risk factor for cataract.
Glaucoma, the silent thief of sight, causes damage to the optic nerve and possible loss of side vision, usually caused by an increase in fluid pressure inside the eye. Vision loss will start without any noticeable symptoms leading to tunnel vision. If left untreated, glaucoma can lead to permanent loss of vision. Once vision is lost to glaucoma, it cannot be restored. Medications and surgery can delay progression of this disease.
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Natural History Of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy progresses from mild nonproliferative abnormalities, characterized by increased vascular permeability, to moderate and severe nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy , characterized by vascular closure, to proliferative diabetic retinopathy , characterized by the growth of new blood vessels on the retina and posterior surface of the vitreous. Macular edema, characterized by retinal thickening from leaky blood vessels, can develop at all stages of retinopathy. Pregnancy, puberty, blood glucose control, hypertension, and cataract surgery can accelerate these changes.
Vision-threatening retinopathy is rare in type 1 diabetic patients in the first 35 years of diabetes or before puberty. During the next two decades, nearly all type 1 diabetic patients develop retinopathy. Up to 21% of patients with type 2 diabetes have retinopathy at the time of first diagnosis of diabetes, and most develop some degree of retinopathy over time. Vision loss due to diabetic retinopathy results from several mechanisms. Central vision may be impaired by macular edema or capillary nonperfusion. New blood vessels of PDR and contraction of the accompanying fibrous tissue can distort the retina and lead to tractional retinal detachment, producing severe and often irreversible vision loss. In addition, the new blood vessels may bleed, adding the further complication of preretinal or vitreous hemorrhage. Finally, neovascular glaucoma associated with PDR can be a cause of visual loss.