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Can Diabetes Cause Eye Problems?

Can Diabetes Cause Eye Problems?

Characterized by the body's inability to use and store sugar properly, diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the entirety of the body. Over time, it can cause severe damage throughout the body, including damaging the small blood vessels and capillaries found in your eyes.

Eye Problems Common in Patients With Diabetes

Damage to the vessels and capillaries in your eyes can result in a number of potentially quite severe eye problems if the damage is not caught and addressed early. The most common diabetic eye problems include:

  • Diabetic Retinopathy
  • Diabetic Macular Edema
  • Glaucoma
  • Cataracts

The longer an individual has diabetes, the greater their chance of developing an eye complication. While controlled blood sugar levels can slow the onset and progression, any eye problem can eventually cause loss of sight if left untreated. 

For those with diabetes, it is essential to be aware of the symptoms and risk factors. Not all diabetics will develop an eye problem. But as with most eye diseases, early detection allows for treatment that can delay severe damage to eyesight.

Diabetic Retinopathy - Symptoms, Advancement, and Treatment

Diabetic Retinopathy is when damage to blood vessels affects the retina (tissue at the back of the eye that senses light); it can cause blood and other fluids to leak out, leading to swelling of the eye. In the first and most common stage, non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR), this swelling can distort the retinal surface. This distortion can cause general blurriness, floaters, and difficulty focusing.

The damage caused to blood vessels and swelling of the eye during the first stage of diabetic retinopathy decreases circulation and slowly deprives the retina of oxygen. The second advanced stage of the disease is proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR). It is during this stage that most people begin to realize they have a problem seeing.

Symptoms and complications of advanced-stage PDR include:

  • Blurred and cloudy vision
  • Dark or empty spots, especially in the center of the vision
  • Detachment of the retina due to scar tissue
  • Optic nerve damage causing glaucoma

New blood vessels begin to grow in the retina to compensate for damage and lack of oxygen. These new vessels are fragile, breaking easily and leaking even more fluid into the vitreous (clear jelly-like center). This leakage causes a domino effect, adding even more eye pressure. Without proper treatment, PDR will eventually cause severe vision loss or blindness.

The best way to help prevent and lessen the potential symptoms of vision loss from PDR is with careful management of diabetes and early detection. Keeping your blood sugar in check, eating healthier, and exercising can all increase the health of your circulatory system. For those with NPDR, maintaining the integrity of blood vessels can delay the second stage of the disease for some time.

As diabetic retinopathy worsens in later stages, more treatments are available that might help stop vision from worsening, like laser surgery, vitrectomy, and medication to reduce swelling.

Diabetic Macular Edema - Symptoms, Advancement, and Treatment

Macular edema is a medical condition that affects the macula, which is the central part of the retina responsible for sharp, central vision. It occurs when fluid accumulates in the macula, leading to swelling and distortion of vision. Macular edema can be caused by various underlying conditions, with diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) being the most common causes.

Symptoms tend to include:

  • Blurred and cloudy vision
  • Reduced central vision or trouble focusing on fine details
  • Dark spots and floaters

Treatment for this diabetic eye complication can include lifestyle changes and management of diabetes directly, anti-VEGF injections, corticosteroid injections, and surgery in the most severe cases.

Glaucoma - Symptoms, Advancement, and Treatment

As swelling in the eye worsens for diabetics over time, this prevents fluid from draining correctly and causes damage directly to the optic nerve or glaucoma. The gradual damage to the nerve is painless, with vision problems developing very slowly. With little to no symptoms at the onset of the disease, nearly half of the people affected do not know they have the disease.

While early symptoms might only be small blind spots or decreased peripheral vision, inevitably, the disease can cause total blindness. It is one of the most common eye diseases among adults.

Treatments for glaucoma start with medicine and special eye drops, but as the condition progresses, surgery or laser treatments may be necessary to maintain visual acuity.

Cataracts - Symptoms, Advancement, and Treatment

Cataract refers to the clouding of the eye's lens; in people over 40, it is the most common cause of vision loss and the number one cause of blindness worldwide. You may notice:

  • Blurred vision or  double vision
  • Excessive light sensitivity
  • Trouble seeing at night
  • Viewing bright colors as yellowish or faded

Diagnosis for cataracts is done via a thorough eye exam, pupil dilation, and pertinent tests, such as visual acuity. If you do have cataracts, the only way to remove cataracts is through surgery. If your situation is not severe as yet and you choose to wait to remove cataracts, vision can be assisted by prescribing new glasses/lenses to correct vision changes.

Diabetic Eye Care in Western North Carolina

If you have recently been diagnosed with diabetes or have concerns that you may be experiencing symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, schedule a comprehensive eye exam with a trusted eye care professional. For Buncombe and surrounding counties in North Carolina, Asheville Vision and Wellness has the expertise, care, and technology you can trust with your vision.

Since 1989, our staff has served the area using the latest science and medical treatments to keep your vision healthy. Our optometrists are certified in diagnosing, treating, and managing ocular disease with examinations customized just for your unique eye-care needs.

If you have concerns about developing PDR or any other ocular diseases, schedule an appointment online or call us at (828) 747-9260.