Diabetes and Vision Loss: Know the Connection, Take Steps to Prevent Eye Problems

Diabetes and Vision Loss: Know the Connection, Take Steps to Prevent Eye Problems

People living with diabetes can have eye problems that lead to vision loss or blindness. The longer you have diabetes, the greater your chance for diabetic eye disease. The risk is higher for African Americans and Hispanics in the United States.

A common type of diabetic eye disease is “diabetic retinopathy.” High blood sugar causes tiny blood vessels in the eye to grow and leak blood and other fluids onto the retina (a thin group of cells at the back of the eye). When light hits the retina, it sends signals to the brain to form visual images.

Warning signs of retinal disease may include:

  • Spots or floaters in your field of vision
  • Blurry vision
  • Dark or empty spot in the center of your vision
  • Poor night vision

In early stages, people may not experience any symptoms. That’s why it’s so important to have an eye exam each year. Regular vision tests can detect problems early so it can be treated before vision loss becomes worse.

Diabetics can keep blood sugar and blood pressure levels under control to protect eyes and minimize damage to eyesight. Treatments are also available. One uses a laser to seal blood leaks.

Diabetes has been linked to other eye diseases, including:

  • Macular edema – a form of retinopathy in which fluid leaks into the focal point of the eye, causing blurred vision.
  • Cataracts – a clouding of the eye’s clear lens that blocks light. People without diabetes get cataracts, but diabetics are 60 percent more likely to get them, can be younger and often see cataracts progress more quickly.
  • Glaucoma – a building of pressure in the eye, which pinches the blood vessels that carry blood to the retina and optic nerve. Damage to the retina and nerve can cause vision loss.

Take steps to protect your eyes. Control your diabetes by eating well, staying active and taking your medications as instructed by your doctor.

And remember, yearly eye exams are the best way to spot problems early when they’re easiest to treat. You may even save your eyesight.

For more on eye care, visit the American Diabetes Association

Sources: Diabetic Retinopathy,   Mayo Clinic, 2018; Diabetic Retinopathy,   National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, 2019; Cataracts,   National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, 2019; Glaucoma,   National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health; The American Diabetes Association,   2021; Eye Complications,   American Diabetes Association, 2021.

Originally published 9/21/2016; Revised 2019, 2021