How Diabetes Can Affect Your Eyes and What You Can Do About It

by Cindy Gray

People with diabetes are more likely to develop blinding eye diseases. However, recent studies show that ethnicities at higher risk for diabetes have a low awareness of this serious issue.  Since these findings indicate that many Americans may not be defending themselves properly against diabetes-related vision loss, the American Academy of Ophthalmology has shared valuable information about diabetic eye disease and dilated eye exams to encourage people with diabetes to take proactive steps to protect their vision.How to Protect Yourself from Diabetic Eye Disease

Hispanics and African-Americans are more likely to have diabetes than most other ethnicities in the U.S. However, a recent poll shows that only 27% and 32% percent of these ethnicities respectively know about diabetic eye disease.

In addition, while people with diabetes are recommended to have a dilated eye exam every year, a recent study found that among Medicare beneficiaries diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, or diabetes—all conditions that require annual eye exams—three-quarters of those who did not have an exam in five years were those living with diabetes.

It's alarming for health experts that so many people with diabetes or at risk for diabetes may be unaware of the damage this condition can do to their eyes. Outside of maintaining healthy blood glucose levels, having an annual dilated eye exam is the best first-line defense against vision loss from diabetic eye disease.

Further, many people are unaware that the term ‘diabetic eye disease’ includes a number of diseases and conditions that can cause blindness if left untreated, including:-

  • Diabetic retinopathy - affects 28.5% of people aged 40 years and older living with diabetes. It occurs when the small blood vessels in the eye change by swelling, leaking fluid, or closing off completely, blocking blood flow from reaching the retina. In its earliest stages, diabetic retinopathy does not have symptoms but can lead to changes in the eye such as macular edema, the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes. Treatment for diabetic retinopathy includes laser surgery, medical injections and vitrectomy surgery in which blood and scar tissue caused by abnormal blood vessels is removed.

  • Cataracts - occur when the eye's lens becomes cloudy, causing vision to become blurry, cloudy, or dim. While this happens in many people as they age, those with diabetes are more likely to develop cataracts. Mild cataracts may be treated with eyeglasses, but once the cataract is advanced, it will require cataract surgery in which the natural cloudy lens is replaced with an artificial lens implant.

  • Glaucoma - is a disease that damages the optic nerve and peripheral vision. The damage to the optic nerve is usually caused by elevated pressure in the eye. People with diabetes are more likely to develop glaucoma, which doesn’t have any noticeable symptoms in its early stages. Glaucoma can be treated with medication such as prescription eye drops or with surgery, but will inevitably result in blindness if left untreated.

Given the high risk for many adverse eye conditions, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that people with type 2 diabetes should get a dilated eye exam at the time of diagnosis and every year following to protect their eyesight.



How Diabetes Can Affect Your Eyes - And What You Can Do About It


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