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Although you may be familiar with diabetes, you may not have heard of the extensive ripple effects that the condition has on the rest of the body. When not properly managed, diabetes can damage the heart, kidneys, and blood vessels. It can also damage small blood vessels in the eyes, causing visual disturbances that could lead to diabetic eye disease.   

What Is Diabetic Eye Disease? 

Diabetic eye disease is a group of eye complications that can result from diabetes. When blood glucose levels are not properly managed (one of the main struggles of diabetes) it can damage blood vessels in the eye and lead to the development of cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and diabetic macular edema. 

  • Cataracts. Excess blood sugar from diabetes can cause cataracts, a cloudiness of the eye lens.  
  • Glaucoma. This is a severe condition where a damaged optic nerve can cause vision loss. Although glaucoma is a common eye disease in people over the age of 60, individuals with diabetes have a higher chance of developing it. 
  • Diabetic retinopathy. When blood vessels in the eye damage the retina, it can significantly impair vision. This can lead to nonproliferative (early stage) diabetic retinopathy, where weakened blood vessels begin to leak, causing further eye damage. If it advances to proliferative diabetic retinopathy, abnormal blood vessels develop and leaking of blood can lead to severe vision loss or blindness.  
  • Diabetic macular edema. This occurs when fluid builds up in the macula and causes swelling which can directly lead to significant vision loss and even blindness. 

“Diabetic retinopathy can be present without visual symptoms initially,” says Vinnie Shah, MD, an ophthalmologist at Summit Health. “Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to prevent irreversible damage and vision loss, so all diabetics should have an annual eye exam.”   

Other Eye Problems Related to Diabetes 

  • Floaters. Anyone can experience floaters (drifting shapes and spots in your vision); however, they are very common in people who have developed diabetes.  
  • Blurry vision. Rapidly changing blood sugar levels can affect the shape of your eye’s lens, causing blurriness.  
  • Double vision. Diabetes can damage the nerves that help the eyes work together, causing double vision. 

Preventing Diabetic Eye Disease 

The most important thing you can do to prevent diabetic eye disease is to control blood sugar. Additionally, it is helpful to: 

  • Maintain a healthy diet 
  • Control blood pressure and cholesterol levels 
  • Get an annual eye exam 
  • Quit smoking 

Diabetic Eye Disease Treatment 

Treatment for diabetic eye disease is dependent on the specific condition and stage, but anti-inflammatory medications, laser treatment, or surgery may be options to discuss with your doctor and ophthalmologist. 

Final Thoughts on Diabetic Eye Disease 

If not properly managed, diabetes can take a toll on many parts of the body, including the eyes.  

The best way to address eye conditions is through early detection and prompt treatment, which starts with an eye exam. To learn more about Summit Health’s Ophthalmology and Optometry services, visit our website.