Individuals diagnosed with diabetes are at an increased risk for other serious health problems. High blood sugar (glucose) can cause eye problems and even blindness in patients with diabetes. Blurry vision might signal a more serious health problem in diabetic patients. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), diabetes is the leading cause of blindness for American adults.
The NEI defines diabetic eye disease as a group of problems that might arise as a result of complications of diabetes. Diabetic eye diseases include cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. These conditions can cause severe vision loss or may even lead to blindness.
A cataract is a clouding or fogging of the normally clear lens of the eye, which results in an inability to focus on light and in impaired vision. Glaucoma occurs when the fluid inside the eye does not drain properly, which can lead to excess pressure in the eye. This pressure can damage the nerves and blood vessels in the eye and cause changes in vision. Although these conditions can also occur in people without diabetes, those diagnosed with the disease are 60 percent more likely to develop cataracts and 40 percent more likely to suffer from glaucoma.
The most serious eye-related disorder caused by diabetes is diabetic retinopathy, a condition that can lead to a permanent loss of sight. Diabetes affects the blood vessels in the eye. If these blood vessels leak or experience blockage, they can cause changes in the retina and in vision. Those that have been diagnosed with diabetes for a longer period of time are more likely to develop retinopathy. Many people who have diabetic retinopathy may only experience a mild form of the condition that never progresses to vision loss. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is still the leading cause of blindness among American adults aged 20 to 74 years. Those who suffer from retinopathy may not notice any symptoms of eye damage until it is too late for treatment to be effective, which is why it is extremely important for patients diagnosed with diabetes to undergo regular eye exams.
All patients diagnosed with diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, are at risk for diabetic eye diseases. However, these conditions can be prevented by taking steps to control blood sugar levels and blood pressure. HealthCare Partners also recommends patients with diabetes to see their eye doctor at least once a year for a comprehensive dilated eye exam.
Remember to inform providers of symptoms such as blurry vision, red eyes that do not go away, diminished peripheral vision and eye pain. Thankfully, serious eye diseases can be prevented and treated if patients stay involved in their care and maintain regular check-ups with their HealthCare Partners provider.