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Categories: Diabetes & Nutrition

How Diabetes Can Affect Your Eyes

Christy Evans, DNP

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetic retinopathy is a common form of diabetes-related eye disease and the leading cause of blindness in American adults. This is a growing problem – as the number of people living with diabetes increases, so does the number of people with impaired vision. In honor of Healthy Vision Month, let’s shed some light on diabetic retinopathy and its impacts.

Retinopathy is a progressive eye disease that causes damage to the small blood vessels of the retina which allow you to see fine details. Diabetic retinopathy can cause vision loss and blindness in people who have diabetes, partially due to poorly controlled blood sugar. This condition is the most common cause of irreversible blindness, impacting almost one-third of adults with diabetes over age 40 and more than one-third of all Black and Mexican Americans.

Those with diabetes are at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Risk factors include the duration of diabetes and blood sugar issues, elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and pregnancy.

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy may include blurred vision, seeing floating spots, and vision changes lasting more than a few days. Other symptoms include double vision, difficulty reading, a shadow across the visual field, eye pain or pressure, or difficulty with color perception. However, symptoms of diabetic retinopathy may not appear until damage has already begun – in the disease’s early stages, you may not notice any symptoms or changes in your eyesight. Due to this, it is essential to schedule a yearly retinal exam upon diagnosis, especially for those with type 2 diabetes. Patients with type one diabetes should have the initial exam within five years of diagnosis because retinopathy can take up to five years to develop after the onset of elevated blood sugar levels.

A retinal exam, also called an ophthalmoscopy or funduscopy, is a painless exam that can be performed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist or at a specialized diabetes center and the results should be shared with your primary care provider. Usually, eye drops are used to dilate the pupil to allow the provider to examine the back of your eye, including the retina, blood vessels, and the optic nerve.

The risk of diabetic retinopathy increases over time in patients who have diabetes, especially with uncontrolled diabetes, elevated blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol levels. Careful management of your diabetes is the best way to prevent vision loss. If you have diabetes, ensure you see your provider for your yearly eye exam with dilation, even if your vision seems fine. Additionally, contact your eye doctor right away if your vision changes suddenly or becomes blurry, spotty, or hazy. While diabetic retinopathy cannot be reversed, getting an annual retinal exam will allow your eye doctor to diagnose retinopathy early, help you manage the eye disease, and help prevent vision loss.

The Diabetes Institute


Julia Derrick

Julia Derrick

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