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How Can You Tell If Diabetes Is Affecting Your Eyes?

July 14 2022

Anyone living with diabetes is familiar with the wide-ranging effects it can have on your body’s systems, and the eyes are affected as well. Over time, the wear and tear that diabetes puts on your eyes take the form of noticeable symptoms. As with any other type of disease, early detection is key. In this post, a Lake Stevens, WA optometrist talks about the effects of diabetes and what signs indicate it’s affecting your eyes.

How Diabetes Affects the Body and Eyes

Diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t convert sugar into energy the way it should. This in turn leads to high blood sugar levels. If your sugar levels stay high, it can damage organs throughout the body, including the eyes. Over time, the effects of diabetes begin to cause inflammation in the tissues around the eyes.

When this happens, blood flows more slowly than it should through the blood vessels in the eyes, especially the vessels that lead to the retina. Because the retina plays a central role in producing the electrical signals your brain uses to create the images you see, restricted blood flow to the retina can compromise your vision. These developments cause a condition known as diabetic retinopathy.

Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy are likely to appear gradually as the effects of restricted blood flow begin to interfere with retinal function. As the condition worsens, the symptoms become more obvious.

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Inability to see at night
  • Loss of peripheral vision or the ability to see sideways out of the eye
  • Floaters, which appear as small dark figures or dots stretching across your field of vision moveBlind spots in your field of vision
  • Difficulty distinguishing colors, e.g. if you cannot distinguish blue from purple 
  • Blurred vision in one or both eyes

If left untreated, the effects of diabetes on your eyes can continue to affect your vision and can even lead to blindness.

Get Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy

As with any health condition, the sooner diabetic retinopathy is diagnosed and treated, the better your vision is protected. So if you notice one or more of the above symptoms, it’s best to have your eyes checked.

An optometrist will perform a comprehensive eye exam that allows him or her to see the blood vessels at the back of the eye that lead to the retina. Depending on your condition, the optometrist will then develop a treatment plan that addresses any immediate eye problems you may have along with instructions on how best to manage the effects of high blood sugar.

Our Advice on How to Tell If Diabetes Is Affecting Your Eyes in 2024

How often should people with diabetes have their eyes examined?

People with diabetes should have their eyes examined at least once a year. Regular eye exams are crucial because diabetes significantly increases the risk of developing eye conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to vision loss if not detected and managed early. More frequent exams may be necessary if there are signs of eye health deterioration or if the individual has a history of diabetes-related eye problems. These comprehensive exams allow for early detection and management of changes in the eyes, helping to preserve vision.

Are there any preventive measures that diabetics can take to reduce the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetics can reduce the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by maintaining tight control of their blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels through a healthy diet, regular exercise, and adherence to prescribed medications. Regular eye exams are crucial for early detection and management. Avoiding smoking and managing stress effectively are also important, as these factors can exacerbate the condition. Implementing these lifestyle changes can significantly lower the risk of diabetic retinopathy and other diabetes-related complications, preserving vision and overall health.

What are the different stages of diabetic retinopathy, and how do they progress?

Diabetic retinopathy begins with mild nonproliferative retinopathy, characterized by small areas of swelling in the blood vessels of the retina. As the condition progresses to moderate and then severe nonproliferative stages, more blood vessels become blocked, depriving the retina of necessary nutrients. In the final stage, proliferative retinopathy, the retina begins to grow new blood vessels. These new vessels are fragile and prone to leaking, which can lead to significant vision problems and potentially blindness if not properly treated. Each stage increases in severity, emphasizing the need for early detection and management.

Are there any other eye conditions, besides diabetic retinopathy, that are more common in people with diabetes?

Yes, people with diabetes are at increased risk for several other eye conditions besides diabetic retinopathy. These include diabetic macular edema, which involves swelling in an area of the retina called the macula and can lead to vision loss. Cataracts, which are characterized by a clouding of the lens, develop at an earlier age in diabetics. Glaucoma, another condition more prevalent among diabetics, involves increased pressure in the eye that can lead to optic nerve damage. Both of these conditions can significantly impair vision if not properly managed.

How does blood sugar control impact the development and progression of diabetic eye problems?

Blood sugar control is crucial in managing the development and progression of diabetic eye problems. High blood sugar levels can cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina, leading to conditions such as diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema. Maintaining blood glucose within recommended levels helps to prevent or slow the progression of these conditions. Poor blood sugar control accelerates the vascular complications of diabetes, increasing the risk of vision loss. Effective management of diabetes through diet, medication, and lifestyle changes is key to protecting ocular health.

If you have additional questions or would like to schedule a consultation, please do not hesitate to call our Lake Stevens, WA optometry office today.

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