Diabetes and Your Eyes

November is Diabetes Awareness Month, a time to learn about prevention, detection and treatment of one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States. Diabetes is a metabolic disease that affects the body’s ability to use glucose to produce energy.

Prevalence of Diabetes

Diabetes is a nationwide problem and is considered the most expensive chronic disease in the United States. In the past 10 years, diabetes incidence increased by almost 50 percent. The disease now affects 30 million Americans, including 12 million seniors. According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 100 million Americans are diabetic or pre-diabetic.

  • Type 1 — Previously known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, type 1 diabetes usually begins in childhood. It comprises only about five percent of all diabetes cases.
  • Type 2 — Also known as insulin-resistant diabetes or adult-onset diabetes, type 2 diabetes is the most prevalent type and comprises 90-95 percent of all diabetes cases. Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include family history of the disease, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle and obesity.
  • Prediabetic — A condition in which blood glucose levels are too high, but not high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Complications of Diabetes

If you have diabetes, you are at higher risk for diabetic eye disease, a group of eye conditions that affect diabetics. Some of the most common forms of diabetic eye disease include cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. All diabetic eye disease has the potential to cause significant vision loss and blindness.

Diabetes and Cataracts

Anyone can develop cataracts, but diabetics are 60 percent more likely to develop cataracts than non-diabetics. A cataract is the gradual clouding of the eye lens that progressively impairs vision. People with diabetes tend to get cataracts at a younger age, and their cataracts usually progress faster. 

Diabetes and Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a family of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve, which transmits visual images to the brain. Diabetics are 40 percent more likely to develop glaucoma than people without diabetes, and risk increases with age. Glaucoma risk also increases with the number of years since diabetes diagnosis.

Diabetes and Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy refers to any retinal damage that results from long-term diabetes. It is the most common cause of vision loss among diabetics and the leading cause of vision impairment and blindness among American adults. This eye condition changes blood vessels in the retina, causing them to leak fluid or blood, which impairs vision. Because diabetic retinopathy develops slowly, eye damage can occur before people notice vision changes.

Diabetes and Eye Care

Early detection and treatment of diabetic eye disease can significantly reduce the risk of blindness. Because many eye diseases have no symptoms in the early stages, it is imperative for diabetics to have yearly comprehensive eye exams.

When you make an appointment for annual comprehensive eye exams, your ophthalmologist will test your visual acuity, evaluate the health of your retina and optic nerve and assess your risk for diabetic eye disease.

If you develop a diabetic-related eye condition, your ophthalmologist may want to see you more often if your treatment plan requires it. Regular visits to an eye doctor can prevent further eye damage and preserve your vision so you can maintain your independence.

Cataract surgery is one of the most common and successful operations in the United States. After a quick procedure and short recovery, many cataract patients enjoy the most precise vision they have ever experienced. Some procedures are even covered by your insurance, depending on the type of lens you select.

Preventing Diabetes

If you are prediabetic, it is important to understand you can manage your risk for diabetes and even reverse prediabetes by making lifestyle changes and by ensuring you:

  • Take all prescribed medication
  • Visit your eye doctor and primary care physician regularly (at their requested intervals)
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise daily
  • Control your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels with regular monitoring by your primary care physician
  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Quit smoking

If you are diabetic, these healthy habits will also help manage your diabetes and prevent diabetic eye disease.

Call an Eye Doctor

Don’t leave your vision to chance. During Diabetes Awareness Month, make an appointment for a comprehensive eye exam to assess your risk for diabetic eye disease. Our physicians are board certified and use the latest technology and treatment methods to preserve healthy vision. If you require cataract surgery, rest assured you are choosing the experts. An estimated 85 percent of procedures in our eye care centers are cataract surgeries.

Request an Appointment and complete the form online. You will be taking an important step in protecting your eye health.