Source: American Diabetes Association
You may have heard that diabetes causes eye problems and may lead to blindness. People with diabetes do have a higher risk of blindness than people without diabetes.
But most people who have diabetes have nothing more than minor eye disorders. You can keep minor problems minor. And if you do develop a major problem, there are treatments that often work well if you begin them right away.
People with diabetes are 40% more likely to suffer from glaucoma than people without diabetes. The longer someone has had diabetes, the more common glaucoma is. Risk also increases with age.
Glaucoma occurs when pressure builds up in the eye. In most cases, the pressure causes drainage of the aqueous humor to slow down so that it builds up in the anterior chamber. The pressure pinches the blood vessels that carry blood to the retina and optic nerve. Vision is gradually lost because the retina and nerve are damaged.
There are several treatments for glaucoma. Some use drugs to reduce pressure in the eye, while others involve surgery.
Many people without diabetes get cataracts, but people with diabetes are 60% more likely to develop this eye condition. People with diabetes also tend to get cataracts at a younger age and have them progress faster. With cataracts, the eye’s clear lens clouds, blocking light.
To help deal with mild cataracts, you may need to wear sunglasses more often and use glare-control lenses in your glasses. For cataracts that interfere greatly with vision, doctors usually remove the lens of the eye. Sometimes the patient gets a new transplanted lens. In people with diabetes, retinopathy can get worse after removal of the lens, and glaucoma may start to develop.
Diabetic retinopathy is a general term for all disorders of the retina caused by diabetes. It is the major cause of blindness in people with diabetes. There are two major types of retinopathy: nonproliferative and proliferative.
Nonproliferative retinopathy is the most common form of retinopathy. In nonproliferative retinopathy, capillaries in the back of the eye balloon and form pouches. Nonproliferative retinopathy can move through three stages (mild, moderate, and severe), as more and more blood vessels become blocked. Although retinopathy does not usually cause vision loss at this stage, the capillary walls may lose their ability to control the passage of substances between the blood and the retina. Fluid can leak into the part of the eye where focusing occurs, the macula. When the macula swells with fluid, a condition called macula edema, vision blurs and can be lost entirely. Although nonproliferative retinopathy usually does not require treatment, macular edema must be treated, but fortunately treatment is usually effective at stopping and sometimes reversing vision loss.
In some people, retinopathy progresses after several years to a more serious form called proliferative retinopathy. In this form, the blood vessels are so damaged they close off. In response, new blood vessels start growing in the retina. These new vessels are weak and can leak blood, blocking vision, which is a condition called vitreous hemorrhage. The new blood vessels can also cause scar tissue to grow. After the scar tissue shrinks, it can distort the retina or pull it out of place — this is called retinal detachment.
Your retina can be badly damaged before you notice any change in vision. Most people with nonproliferative retinopathy have no symptoms. Even with proliferative retinopathy, the more dangerous form, people sometimes have no symptoms until it is too late to treat them. For this reason, you should have your eyes examined regularly by an eye care professional.
Several factors influence whether you get retinopathy. These include your blood sugar control, your blood pressure levels, how long you have had diabetes, and your genes.
The longer you’ve had diabetes, the more likely you are to have retinopathy. Almost everyone with type 1 diabetes will eventually have nonproliferative retinopathy. And most people with type 2 diabetes will also get it. But the retinopathy that destroys vision, proliferative retinopathy, is far less common.
People who keep their blood sugar levels closer to normal are less likely to have retinopathy or to have milder forms.