5 ways diabetes can affect your eye health

Nearly 1 person in 25 in the UK has diabetes. If you have diabetes, it’s important to monitor your eye health; increased blood sugar levels can lead to vision problems such as cataracts, glaucoma, and retinopathy.

Diabetes is a disease that affects the way we process food for energy and growth. With all forms of diabetes—type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes—the body has trouble converting sugar in the blood into energy, resulting in a variety of potential health problems.

In this blog we look at some of the diabetes-related vision problems or diseases that might occur:

  1. Blurred vision and diabetes

If your sight becomes a little blurry you don’t need to rush to buy new glasses straight away, but you should schedule an appointment with your optometrist to rule out the possibility of a serious problem.

Blurry vision could just be a small problem caused by high blood sugar. Your lens can swell, which changes your ability to see. To correct it, you need to get your blood sugar back into the target range, don’t panic if it doesn’t happen straight away, it may take as long as 3 months for your vision to fully get back to normal.

  1. Cataracts and diabetes

People with diabetes are more likely to develop a cataract at an earlier age and it can develop faster, but why? While the reasons why are still not fully understood, people with diabetes mellitus statistically face a 60% greater risk of developing cataracts. As with most complications of diabetes, maintaining good control of your blood sugar levels will help to reduce your risk.

In addition, research has shown that people with type 2 diabetes who lower their HbA1c level by just 1% can reduce their risk of cataracts by 19%.

  1. Glaucoma and diabetes

People with diabetes are almost 50% more likely to develop glaucoma, an eye disorder that damages the optic nerve often marked by a rise in internal eye pressure.

If you have diabetes, you’re also more likely to get a rare condition called neovascular glaucoma. This makes new blood vessels grow on the iris, the coloured part of your eye. They block the normal flow of fluid and raise eye pressure. It can be difficult to treat. You may be advised to try laser surgery to cut back on the vessels. Or use implants to help drain the fluid.

  1. Diabetic Retinopathy

The retina is a group of cells on the back of your eye that take in light. They turn it into images that the optic nerve sends to your brain. Damage to small blood vessels in your retina causes diabetic retinopathy. It’s related to high blood sugar levels. If you don’t find and treat it early, you could go blind. The longer you have diabetes, the more likely you are to get it. If you keep your blood sugar under control, you lower your chances.

People with type 1 diabetes rarely develop the condition before adolescence. In adults, it’s rare to see unless you’ve had type 1 diabetes for at least 5 years. Again, if you keep tight control of your blood sugar with either an insulin pump or multiple daily insulin injections, you’re far less likely to get this condition.

If you have type 2 diabetes, you may have signs of eye problems when you’re diagnosed. Control your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol to slow or prevent the disease and if you smoke, try to quit, it’ll improve your eyes and your overall health.

  1. Diabetic maculopathy and diabetic macular oedema

Macular oedema and macular degeneration are more common in diabetics due to malfunctioning blood vessels in the middle region of the retina responsible for central, sharp vision.

When the macula is affected by your retinopathy, you are said to have diabetic maculopathy. This means that your central vision, which is required for seeing fine detail and colour, will be blurred. This will make things like reading, writing and seeing detail difficult.

If there is a leakage of fluid from the blood vessels near the macula, this fluid can build up and cause macular swelling. This is called diabetic macular oedema and it can cause vision to be blurred and distorted, as well as making colours appear washed out.

It can be upsetting to be diagnosed with a diabetic eye condition, and it’s normal to find yourself worrying about the future and how you will manage with a change in your vision. Most of the eye problems caused by diabetes can be treated, but it is vital that these problems are picked up as soon as possible; treatment is more effective when given early.

If you have diabetes, your GP or specialist clinic will arrange for you to have a retinal screening every year. It is also important if you know you have diabetes to monitor any changes to your overall health.

For more information visit the RNIB website, click here.

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