For diabetics, monitoring overall health is a crucial part of everyday life. Diet, exercise, medications and or insulin are all part of the daily routine of an individual managing their diabetes. Individuals with diabetes are at higher risk for a number of health complications including but not limited to: heart disease, kidney and nerve damage, hypoglycemia and coma from lack of insulin. These individuals are also at higher risk for eye disease and the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that individuals diagnosed with diabetes (both type 1 and type 2) have annual eye exams regardless of their age or self-perceived eye health.
Blood sugar and insulin levels in the body affect many aspects of health and eye health is no exception. High blood sugar levels are associated with increased chance of eye problems and eye disease. Diabetics are at risk for developing Cataracts, Glaucoma and Diabetic Retinopathy and as a result, diabetes is the main cause of blindness for individuals between 20 and 74.
Cataracts are characterized by cloudy or blurred vision. The lens of the eye, which is normally clear becomes impaired and can no longer focus light. People with diabetes can develop cataracts at a younger age and the disease can advance more quickly than in individuals that do not have diabetes. Surgery is usually required for the insertion of a lens implant and then the use of glasses or contact lenses if necessary to improve visual clarity.
Glaucoma is often associated with blurred vision, halos around light, headaches, eye pain and watery eyes. When blood sugar levels fluctuate, the lens in the eye with shrink and swell with fluid along with these levels. However, this changes the pressure inside the eye and this pressure damages the nerves and blood vessels in the eye, causing changes in vision. This is one reason why blurry vision is associated with poorly managed diabetes. Glaucoma can also be asymptomatic until it has progressed far enough to cause marked vision loss, so careful monitoring by an eye doctor is essential. Treatment for this disease can involve a range of interventions from prescription medicine to eye drops and from laser procedures to surgery.
Diabetic Retinopathy is typically connected with symptoms that include a loss of vision, blurry vision, floaters, and pain in the eye. It is a condition that causes a weakening of the blood vessels in the eye, causing them to burst and leak into the retina. Even though new blood vessels continue to form they are also weak and will subsequently burst and leak more liquid. Like the two diseases mentioned previously, this condition is intricately linked to blood sugar levels in the body. Ultimately, vision can become impaired and scar tissue can form pulling the retina away from the wall of the eye, causing Retinal Detachment. If Diabetic Retinopathy is not diagnosed early it can lead to blindness. As always, regular checkups and communication with your eye doctor are critical. Treatment can include laser therapy and surgery.
Individuals diagnosed with Diabetes must follow strict eye care guidelines both to help prevent any eye problems and to catch any issues that do arise early enough to prevent serious damage. Annual eye exams should be performed on people with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and even more frequently if problems or symptoms arise. A dilated eye exam should be performed immediately after diagnosis for individuals with Type 2 diabetes and within three years for individuals with Type 1 diabetes. For pregnant women with diabetes, an exam is recommended prior and during pregnancy (this does not include women who develop gestational diabetes).
As discussed above, diabetes is often associated with blurred vision because of the impact blood sugar has on the eyes ability to function. Individuals with a case of diabetes that is not managed may experience blurry vision and other sight issues until their blood sugar is under control. For this reason, individuals with uncontrolled diabetes are encouraged to wait to change their contact lens or glasses prescription until their blood sugar has been regulated, in order to accurately assess if a new prescription is necessary. Further, individuals that do develop eye problems as a result of their diabetes should consult with their doctor following treatment to determine if contact lenses or glasses are necessary to support visual clarity.