When Diabetes Causes Vision Loss: 8 Facts You Need To Know

Your overall health affects your eyesight. If you have an existing illness, there’s a chance that your vision could be compromised as well. Diabetes is one example of a condition that could lead to vision loss. It is a common cause of cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. The American Diabetes Association reports that diabetic patients are 60 percent more likely to have cataracts and 40 percent more likely to suffer from glaucoma.

If left unchecked, vision impairment due to diabetes is irreversible. In fact, it is the primary culprit for blindness in adults ages 20 to 74. Early detection and treatment are crucial as they can reduce one’s risk of blindness by 95 percent, as per the National Eye Institute. Here are eight facts you need to know about diabetes-related vision problems:

  1. Diabetics Get Cataracts Earlier

Like a camera, the natural internal lens of your eye allows you to see and focus on an image. A cataract has formed when that part gets cloudy. Anyone can get them, but people with diabetes tend to get them earlier. Glare and difficulty focusing are common symptoms.

  1. Diabetes Blurs Vision

Diabetic macular edema or DME is defined by a fluid build-up in the macula. The macula is the part of the eye in charge of letting you see straight ahead. According to NEI’s Facts About Diabetic Eye Disease, half of diabetic retinopathy patients develops DME at any stage of the disease. Blurred eyesight is the primary symptom.

  1. It Can Damage The Retina

When light travels through the eye, it hits a layer of tissue known as the retina. Light-sensitive cells in this area pass the information on to the optic nerve. Chronic high blood pressure or high blood sugar levels damage the small blood vessels in the retina. Diabetic retinopathy starts when these vessels start to hemorrhage or leak, distorting the individual’s vision.

The four main stages of this condition are as follows:

  • Mild non-proliferative retinopathy – Some fluid leaks out of small vessels due to microaneurysms in the retina.
  • Moderate non-proliferative – This is a distortion and swelling in the arteries which may block blood flow in the retina.
  • Severe non-proliferative – Many blood vessels are disrupted, preventing blood from flowing in the retina and triggering the release of growth factors.
  • Proliferative diabetic – New, weaker vessels develop along the inside of the retina and into the fluid within the eye. These growths are prone to leak and scarring, causing the retina to detach from the underlying eye tissue. This phenomenon can lead to permanent eyesight loss. 

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the most common causes of diabetic sight loss. And yet, its first stages do not usually exhibit symptoms, which may hinder early detection.

  1. The Longer One Has Diabetes, The Higher The Risk

The longer a person suffers from diabetes, the more they become at risk for diabetic retinopathy. The odds are often low for people with type 1 diabetes unless they’ve had the disease for five years or more. Regulating blood glucose with insulin may decrease your chance of having retinopathy. Meanwhile, type 2 diabetes can cause eye issues sooner. Slow them down by managing your cholesterol, blood pressure, and sugar intake.

  1. It Is Easy To Detect Diabetic Retinopathy And DME

These diseases can be found during a routine eye test. An ophthalmologist or optometrist will conduct a dilated eye exam, where they use tonometry to measure internal eye pressure and test visual acuity to calculate distance vision. 

Dilating the pupil helps eye doctors find abnormalities in the retina and other structures inside the eye. This helps them identify fatty deposits and leaky vessels, changes in blood vessels, nerve tissue damage, and macula swelling.

  1. The Right Treatment Can Correct Diabetic Retinopathy

People diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy have the hope of preventing blindness. Here are available treatments that can help:

  • Vitrectomy – The doctor performs surgery to remove the vitreous gel and scar tissue inside the eye. It can treat severe bleeding and restore vision. This can also reattach the retina.
  • Photocoagulation – A laser burns and seals blood vessels to repair the leakage and stop the vessels from growing.
  • Focal photocoagulation – This procedure involves aiming the laser at the macula to treat damaged blood vessels. It can keep the blurry vision and other effects of macular edema from getting worse.
  • Scatter photocoagulation – An eye care professional focuses the laser in a polka-dot pattern. This creates thousands of small burns during two or more sessions to shrink abnormal blood vessels.
  1. Patients Have A High Chance Of Developing Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of diseases characterized by a buildup of pressure inside the eye. Diabetes is deeply linked with secondary glaucoma and its more serious form, neovascular glaucoma. The American Academy of Ophthalmology reveals that an estimated one-third of these cases involve diabetic patients. 

Pressure in the eye increases abnormally in the anterior chamber, obstructing the flow of incoming and outgoing fluid. When it comes to open-angle glaucoma, the fluid doesn’t drain quickly enough, and the subsequent pressure can hurt the optic nerve.

Symptoms of glaucoma include halos around lights, eye pain, watery eyes, headaches, and blurred vision. Having regular eye exams can spot the disease at any stage. Specialized eyedrops often help with controlling and treating this eye condition.

  1. Diabetic Eye Problems Are Preventable

If diseases such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy are spotted early, they can be treated. A yearly dilated eye exam will look for signs of the illness, even if there are no noticeable symptoms. Controlling diabetes is also an excellent way of slowing down the onset and progression of retinopathy. It is more effective if blood sugar levels are well-maintained. 

If your eye doctors suspect a severe case, they may perform a fluorescein angiogram. This involves injecting a dye into the blood to pinpoint the leaks or damaged blood vessels in the eye.

Plan your yearly checkups when you have diabetes. Work with a professional that can map out the changes in your eyes’ structure, so you’ll know when something is not normal. Treating eye problems early can save your vision in the long run.


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