Diabetes is a metabolic disease that affects how your body uses glucose, or sugar. About 26 million Americans are diabetics, and roughly one in every four adults over the age of 60 has the disease. One of the side effects of diabetes is that it can weaken blood vessels in the body, including the eyes. There are several eye conditions that are connected to diabetes, so it is wise to be familiar with them so you can protect your vision:
Long-term diabetes can damage the retina of the eye and cause a condition called diabetic retinopathy. There are two types:
- Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy. This is the early stage of the disease, where the weakened blood vessels in the retina begin to leak. As fluid accumulates in the retina, it causes blurred vision.
- Proliferative diabetic retinopathy is the later stage of the disease where the blood vessels in the retina close, and abnormal blood vessels grow in their place. This can lead to detachment of the retina and vision loss.
A cataract is the clouding of the lens of the eye, a condition that affects one in six Americans over the age of 40. Although anyone can develop cataracts, diabetics tend to experience a quicker deterioration of the lens. Cataracts can be removed with surgery and the old lens can be replaced with a customized prescription intraocular lens (IOL).
Glaucoma is not caused by diabetes, but a significant percentage of diabetics develop glaucoma. Glaucoma is a family of diseases that damage the optic nerve, which is responsible for transmitting visual images to the brain. Increased eye pressure creates stress on the optic nerve, and this can result in permanent vision loss.
Researchers are still seeking answers to the diabetes-glaucoma connection, but statistics show that diabetics are two times more likely to develop glaucoma as non-diabetics. In some diabetic patients, new blood vessels grow on the iris and block the flow of inner eye fluid, which increases eye pressure and places stress on the optic nerve. This condition is called neovascular glaucoma.
If you have diabetes, it is imperative that you have yearly comprehensive eye exams so your eye care professional can monitor the health of your retina and optic nerve and measure your inner eye pressure. Although cataracts are treatable, both diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma can develop slowly and painlessly and can cause permanent eye damage. Protect your vision and make an appointment with your eye doctor today.