November is Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, which raises awareness about and supports people who are affected by diabetes and its symptoms. It’s important to know the signs of diabetes and diabetic eye disease, because they often go undetected.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. There are various types of diabetes, the most common being types 1 and 2.
All types of diabetes are chronic diseases that affect the way your body produces blood sugar, or glucose. Those with type 1 produce little or no insulin, which controls your blood sugar levels. Those with type 2 either don’t produce enough insulin, or their body resists it.
Having too much glucose in the blood long-term can damage small blood vessels in the eyes, leading to various vision problems.
What is Diabetic Eye Disease?
Diabetic eye disease is the leading cause of blindness in people affected by diabetes. According to the CDC, about 90% of vision loss from diabetes can be prevented if detected early.
Diabetic eye disease is a collective term referring to multiple eye problems that can develop due to diabetes, including diabetic retinopathy, macular edema, glaucoma, and cataracts.
Diabetic retinopathy occurs when blood vessels in the retina expand, leak or close off completely. Similarly, macular edema occurs when the small retinal blood vessels begin to leak in, or near, the macula. Glaucoma is a class of diseases, which cause damage to the optic nerve and cataracts cause your lens to become cloudy.
People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing any of these eye diseases. The risk can also increase the longer a person has diabetes, and can lead to permanent vision loss if left untreated. Almost every patient with diabetes will develop some degree of diabetic eye disease, but with early detection and treatment, vision loss can remain minimal. If you’re affected by diabetes, be aware of the following signs of diabetic eye disease:
- Blurry Vision
- Temporary loss of vision
- Eye aches or pain
- Watery eyes
If you experience any of these symptoms you should seek an eye exam immediately. Studies have shown that sixty percent of diabetics do not follow through with recommended eye exams, which can lead to severe complications, like permanent blindness.
How to Protect Your Vision
To protect your eyes from the harmful effects of diabetic eye disease, you should practice healthy eye care by routinely visiting your ophthalmologist and updating your glasses prescription as necessary. Investing in glasses with a proper prescription can relieve you from blurry or foggy vision, and help combat nearsightedness caused by cataracts. If you’re showing signs of diabetic eye disease, your ophthalmologist may recommend more frequent visits and treatment. To better your chances of avoiding this circumstance, avoid harsh UV rays by wearing sunglasses, use eye drops to decrease dryness and irritation, and follow your primary care physician’s diet and exercise guidelines to keep your blood sugar levels at bay.
Randall V. Wong, M.D.
Virginia and Washington D.C.