Diabetes is a disease that affects how the body uses sugar. It is one of the most common diseases in the United States, and about 8.3 percent of Americans have diabetes (about 26 million people). Unfortunately, 7 million diabetics are unaware that they have the disease.
Diabetic eye disease is a group of eye conditions that can affect people with diabetes. Not all diabetics will develop diabetic eye disease, but untreated or uncontrolled diabetes can lead to permanent vision loss.
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common eye disease among working adults and a leading cause of blindness. Diabetes can cause the blood vessels in the eye to leak fluid, causing the retina to swell. Accumulated fluid on the retina can cause blurred vision. As the condition progresses, new blood vessels can grow on the surface of the retina.
Diabetic retinopathy can cause a condition called diabetic macular edema (DME). DME is characterized by swelling in an area of the retina called the macula.
A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens. Diabetics are 2 to 5 times more likely than those without diabetes to develop cataracts. Cataracts also tend to develop at an earlier age in people with diabetes.
Glaucoma is a family of diseases that damage the optic nerve, the bundle of nerve fibers that connects the eye to the brain. In some diabetic patients, new blood vessels grow on the iris and block the flow of inner eye fluid, which increases eye pressure and places stress on the optic nerve. This condition is called neovascular glaucoma.
Here are some guidelines to help you preserve your vision:
- Visit your primary care physician regularly for blood sugar monitoring.
- Control your diet by eating foods that are high in nutrients and low in fat. Limit sugar to small servings.
- Incorporate exercise into your daily routine. This will help control blood sugars and reduce your risk for heart disease and nerve damage.
- Schedule regular comprehensive eye exams to screen for diabetic eye disease.