Elevated blood sugar and eye problems may not seem to be related, but they are inextricably linked. Diabetes can cause damage to blood vessels in the eyes, resulting in the leakage of blood and blurred vision. According to the 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report, the American Diabetes Association revealed that 9.3 percent of the American population in 2012 had diabetes. Vision loss can be prevented or minimized with proper management of blood sugar levels. Sadly, over 8.1 million diabetics in America are undiagnosed, and the lack of this knowledge can cause permanent eye damage (Source: American Diabetes Association).
A healthy blood sugar level is within a range of 70 to 130 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) before meals and less than 180 mg/dl one to two hours after a meal. Elevated glucose levels can cause the lens of the eye to swell, which changes your ability to see. It can take up to three months of controlled blood glucose levels for vision to return to normal.
Blurred vision can be a symptom of a more serious diabetic-related eye condition. The three major eye problems related to diabetes are cataracts, glaucoma and retinal damage.
A cataract is the clouding of the lens of the eye. Your eye is like a camera and uses the lens to focus. Over time, protein in the lens can clump together and form a clouded area called a cataract. Age is the most common cause of cataracts. However, cataracts can develop more quickly in certain circumstances like chronic sun exposure, free radical damage and disease, such as diabetes. Diabetes can cause cataracts to form at an earlier age, and cataracts can progress more rapidly in diabetics.
The most common retinal condition in diabetics is diabetic retinopathy. Many people with diabetic retinopathy may have no initial symptoms. The early stage of the disease is called non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, where weakened blood vessels begin to leak. Accumulated fluid in the retina can cause blurred vision. The second stage is called proliferative diabetic retinopathy, when the retinal blood vessels close and abnormal vessels grow in their place. This can result in detachment of the retina, vision loss and increased eye pressure (glaucoma).
Glaucoma is a broad term for a family of eye diseases that affect the optic nerve. When fluid in the eye does not drain properly, it causes a dangerous increase in pressure on the inside of the eye. Increased eye pressure can cause nerve damage and changes in vision. Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type of glaucoma and can develop slowly. This type often has no symptoms until permanent eye damage has already occurred. Diabetics are also more prone to a rare type of glaucoma called neovascular glaucoma, in which new blood vessels grow in the colored part of the eye called the iris. These new vessels block the flow of fluid which increases eye pressure (Source: Web MD).
If you have diabetes, the most important decision that you can make is to schedule regular comprehensive eye exams with your eye doctor and regular check-ups with your practitioner. Elevated blood sugar can cause multiple health challenges, but there is nothing as important as your vision when it comes to quality of life, independence and seeing the faces of the ones you love.