Diabetes and Vision Loss: Know the Connection, Protect Your Vision

Diabetes and Vision Loss: Know the Connection, Protect Your Vision

People living with diabetes can have eye problems that lead to vision loss or blindness. And diabetic eye disease often has no early symptoms. That’s why an annual eye exam is critical for people with diabetes.

The longer you have diabetes, the greater your chance for diabetic eye disease. Everyone with type 1 or type 2 diabetes is at risk, but the risk is higher for African American and Hispanic people.

Diabetic Retinopathy: Damage to the Retina

Diabetic retinopathy is a common type of diabetic eye disease. High blood sugar causes tiny blood vessels in the eye to grow and leak blood and other fluids onto the retina. The retina is 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. Diabetic retinopathy damages the retina, causing vision loss.

Warning signs of the disease may include:

  • Spots or floaters in your field of vision
  • Blurry vision
  • A dark or empty spot in the center of your vision
  • Changes in vision or poor night vision

These symptoms can come and go, but even if it seems like they have gone away, the problem can be causing ongoing damage.

In early stages, people often don’t experience any symptoms. That’s why it’s so important to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam   every year. Regular eye exams can detect problems early when they can be more successfully treated. Early diagnosis and proper treatment can greatly lower the chance of blindness.

Diabetic Retinopathy Infograph NEI
Source: NEI. Click to view full infographic. 

Other Diabetes-Related Eye Problems

Diabetes has been linked to other eye diseases,   including:

  • Macular edema: A form of retinopathy where fluid leaks into the focal point of the eye, causing blurred vision.
  • Cataracts: A clouding of the eye’s clear lens that blocks light. Anyone can get cataracts, but people with diabetes are 60 percent more likely to get them. They can also get them at a younger age, and their cataracts can get worse faster.
  • Glaucoma: A building of pressure in the eye that pinches the blood vessels that carry blood to the retina and optic nerve. Damage to the retina and nerve can cause vision loss.
Protect Your Vision

Take steps to protect your eyes:

  • Keep your blood sugar   and blood pressure   levels under control.
  • Eat well.
  • Stay active.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Take your medications as instructed by your doctor.

Check out the Healthy Living section   of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) website to learn more about managing diabetes.

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.

Share Your Eye Exam Results with Your Doctor

Your primary care physician (PCP) needs a copy of your test results from your eye doctor to keep your diabetes plan of care current.

To make sure you get the best care, we recommend that you ask your eye doctor to share the results of your eye exam with your PCP within two weeks of your eye exam. That way you can discuss the results with your PCP. It also helps make sure you get the right care at the right time.

If your doctor hasn’t talked to you about having an eye exam, make sure to ask about one at your next visit.

Sources: Diabetic retinopathy,   Mayo Clinic, 2018; Diabetic Retinopathy,   National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health (NIH), 2019; Learn the Facts About Diabetic Retinopathy  (infographic), National Eye Institute, NIH; Get a Dilated Eye Exam,   National Eye Institute, NIH, 2021; Cataracts,   National Eye Institute, NIH, 2019; Glaucoma,   National Eye Institute, NIH, 2020; Eye Complications,   American Diabetes Association

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

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