Diabetes & Your Vision: What You Should Know
n 2013, nearly 2 million Canadians (cited from: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/health53a-eng.htm) suffered from diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is primarily diagnosed in children and young adults, while type 2 diabetes strikes adults later in life. Type 2 diabetes often starts with such mild symptoms that adults don't notice them. Diabetes left undiagnosed and untreated for a long time can increase their risk of developing complications later on.
If you think you or a loved one could be suffering from diabetes, your eyesight can give you crucial clues that could lead to a diabetes diagnosis. Read below to learn how diabetes affects your eyes and how to manage diabetes-related eye problems if you receive a positive diagnosis.
Eye-Related Symptoms of Diabetes
If you're worried you might have diabetes, ask yourself if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Blurred vision
- Frequent urination
- Frequent feelings of extreme hunger or thirst
- Slow-to-heal cuts or bruises
Experiencing weight loss, despite eating more, can by a symptom of type 1 diabetes. Experiencing numbness, pain, or tingling in the feet or hands can by a symptom of type 2 diabetes.
Why does diabetes cause blurred vision? If you have diabetes, your body either doesn't have enough insulin, or your cells are resistant to insulin. Insulin helps you maintain your blood sugar levels. Without proper treatment, the level of sugar in your blood increases. This affects all tissues in your body, including your eyes. The lens in your eye can change so much that you become more nearsighted (myopic). Getting your blood sugar under control will generally reverse this myopic shift.
Poorly controlled blood sugar can start affecting the blood vessels in the retina. Early changes to your blood vessels won't necessarily lead to lasting vision damage; however, over time, untreated diabetes can lead to blindness and permanent vision loss.
If you experience blurred vision or any other symptoms of diabetes, see your medical health professional right away. You should also visit your optometrist to rule out any other eye problems that could be causing your blurred vision.
After your diagnosis, get a complete eye exam to stay on top of any diabetes-related eye problems. Your optometrist will want to check the health of your retina. Your spectacle prescription may change until your blood sugar levels are under control. For this reason, new glasses aren't normally prescribed immediately after beginning treatment for diabetes, but can usually be prescribed within 1-2 months of diagnosis.
How Diabetes Affects Your Eyes
According to the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes have an increased risk of eye problems, including blindness.
However, a diabetes diagnosis doesn't mean you need to bid your eyesight goodbye. Visit your eye doctor regularly. Doing so will prevent minor eye problems from becoming major ones, and modern treatments make managing major problems easier.
Three common problems include glaucoma, cataracts, and retinopathy. If you continue to experience blurred vision or vision problems a few months after your diagnosis, you should return to your optometrist as soon as possible to see if you have any of these three problems:
Glaucoma is a disease where the optic nerve becomes damaged, leading to permanent vision loss. If you have diabetes, your chances of developing glaucoma increases by 40% (cited from: http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/eye-complications).
Diabetes puts you at higher risk for developing glaucoma. Glaucoma is a disease where the pressure inside the eye becomes too high, and this can damage the optic nerve. This begins to permanently affect the peripheral vision. Thankfully, glaucoma can be treated to prevent further vision loss and retain visual function. It is often treated with the long-term use of eye drops, but is sometimes treated with lasers or surgery.
Vision loss caused by glaucoma is permanent, so visit your optometrist as soon as you suspect an eye problem.
If a foggy or cloudy patch develops on your eye's lens, you have a cataract. Cataracts usually develop with age, but people with diabetes often develop cataracts at a younger age than others. Diabetes-related cataracts also change faster than non-diabetic cataracts.
Blurred vision and glare can indicate that you have a cataract. You can cope with mild cataracts by wearing sunglasses outdoors and glare-controlled lenses in place of regular lenses. If your cataract greatly obstructs your vision, your optometrist will likely refer you for cataract surgery. During this procedure, your lens will be removed and replaced with a clear, artificial lens to restore your vision.
Your retina transmits the light that enters your eyes to your brain, allowing you to see. However, as previously mentioned, diabetes can damage the blood vessels on your retina, which causes retinopathy.
The longer you have diabetes, the higher your chances are of developing retinopathy. Fortunately, if you regulate your blood sugar well, you will have lower chances of developing irreversible vision damage from retinopathy. Your optometrist can refer for treatment for retinopathy, if necessary.
How to Prevent Eye Problems
The best way to keep your eyesight in check is to regulate your blood sugar and visit your eye doctor on a regular basis. He or she can ensure that minor problems stay minor and recommend treatments for major issues. As soon as you receive a diabetes diagnosis, schedule an eye exam to start taking control of your vision.