For the many millions of Americans who have diabetes, controlling daily symptoms is critical to leading as normal and healthy a life as possible. Many parts of a person’s health and well-being can be affected by diabetes. Over a period of time, the disease can bring on serious complications such as heart disease, stroke and kidney dysfuncton. Doctors stress the necessity of regular blood sugar monitoring, proper diet, exercise, compliance with all diabetic medications and ultimately, controlling of symptoms of the disease.
One of the lesser known complications of diabetes is damage to the eyes. This is particularly true as a person ages. As such, diabetics must be vigilant and have regular and comprehensive eye examinations to check on the status of their eye sight and structure of the eyes themselves.
Watch For Glaucoma Development
A big worry diabetics and their physicians have is the development of a condition of the eyes called glaucoma. People who suffer from high blood sugars are 40 percent more prone to develop this serious eye condition. Along with age, diabetes makes a person prone to have the increased and damaging intraocular pressure so characteristic of glaucoma.
With uncontrolled glaucoma, pressure builds up in the eye ball itself, impairing the circulation in the delicate blood vessels of the eye ball and adversely affecting the retina and optic nerve which connects the eye to the visual centers of the brain. Gradually, the patient’s sight weakens as damaging pressure continues to occur. Blindness can result if glaucoma goes undetected and uncontrolled.
Thankfully, there are several excellent treatment options for glaucoma, including the use of eye drops which control the pressure in the eye. More serious cases of glaucoma, however, may require eye surgery to reduce the intraocular pressure and to stay ahead of serious vision complications.
Another eye problem people with diabetes may develop is cataracts or a clouding of the lens in the eye. Research indicates that diabetics are 60 percent more likely to develop cataracts than persons with normal blood sugars. Also, diabetics can get cataracts at an earlier age than individuals who do not have the disease. The cataracts will progress faster and become a bigger health issue sooner for the diabetic.
While mild cataracts may only require prescription glasses, more severe cataracts may need surgical removal. This operation involves the removal of the cloudy lens and permanent implantation of a synthetic lens which clears the vision.
Another serious eye condition for the diabetic is diabetic macular edema or DME. This is the biggest culprit in vision loss for individual with diabetes. Without regular eye examinations, diabetics with DME can end up losing their vision completely. Unfortunately, almost one-third of diabetic macular edema goes undetected until the serious damage is already done. One the damage to the macula occurs, it is permanent and cannot be reversed.
Diabetic macular edema is a swelling of a structure called in the central part of the field of vision in the retina at the back of the eye. High blood sugars damage the small blood vessels in the retina and cause fluid to leak into the macula. This fluid leakage is what causes the damaging swelling or edema. Symptoms develop over a period of time, but they are sometimes difficult for the person to detect. This is the main reason why diabetics need to undergo annual eye examinations during which the doctor instills eye drops to see the macula clearly and to look for early signs of diabetic macular edema.
You may be asking, “What are my own risk factors for developing vision problems?” There are many, the most common of which are uncontrolled blood sugar levels, high blood pressure, heredity and how long blood sugars have been running high. While it is certainly scary to contemplate serious eye problems or blindness, it is more scary to ignore the possibility of developing them and to neglect routine eye exams by an eye doctor. Regular exams plus proper management of diabetes will decrease the risk of developing serious eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic macular edema, or if serious issues do develop, the problems can be caught earlier, at a milder stage, and have many state of the art treatment options available.