Type 2 diabetes often comes with complications such as heart diseases, diabetic foot ulcers, kidney diseases, etc. Also, the eyes aren’t left out. Diabetes can affect your vision and sometimes cause total blindness. A report by the National Eye Institute showed that it is the leading cause of blindness in adults aged 20–74.
Therefore, you should visit your eye doctor regularly when you have type 2 diabetes to diagnose any eye disease early when it is treatable.
This article will provide detailed information about diabetic eye diseases and how to prevent them.
Many eye complications can result from high blood sugar in type 2 diabetes. These include diabetes retinopathy, glaucoma, cataract, and macular edema. These diseases can affect your eyes, slowly causing poor vision, and may result in total blindness if left untreated. However, with early diagnosis, treatment, and regular eye check-ups, you can prevent them.
This condition occurs when the tiny blood vessels in the retina (the tiny cells at the back of your eyes that receive light that is then turned into images for your brain to interpret) get damaged due to high blood glucose levels. It is the commonest cause of blindness in working-age adults and affects both eyes.
Anyone with diabetes can have diabetic retinopathy. However, certain factors like persistent high blood glucose levels, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking increase your risk of developing the disease.
Usually, in the early stages of the disease, there may be no symptoms. However, as the disease progresses, you may have blurry vision, floating spots in your eyes, dark spots, fluctuating vision, and vision loss.
In the early stages of the disease, regular dilated eye examination by your eye doctor as often as 2 to 4 times a year may be all that’s needed.
In the later stages, certain treatments are required to prevent the worsening of your vision. Surgeries such as laser therapy and retina reattachment may be carried out. Some injections such as corticosteroids and anti-VEGF are also often used.
Diabetic macular edema
The retina’s tiny blood vessels weaken in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. They form tiny pouches that leak blood and other fluids into the central part of the retina called the macula. This can result in diabetic macular edema.
It is the most common cause of blindness in diabetic retinopathy; about half of patients with diabetic retinopathy will develop it.
Macular edema usually doesn’t cause any symptoms. But when symptoms occur, you may have double vision, eye floaters, seeing colors that look washed out, and vision loss.
You may need to get a dilated eye examination for your doctor to make a diagnosis. Treatment may include medications that will stop the leaking and discontinue the growth of new blood vessels. Also, laser photocoagulation and vitrectomy may be helpful.
Type 2 diabetes often leads to the accumulation of aqueous humor – a transparent fluid that helps maintain the pressure within the eyes and provides nutrition for the eye tissues. You can develop glaucoma due to excessive pressure when this fluid is accumulated. In glaucoma, pressure piles up on the optic nerve, ultimately damaging it.
People with diabetes have twice the risk of developing open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of glaucoma.
Another type of glaucoma called neovascular glaucoma can also occur due to diabetes. Here, tiny blood vessels form around the iris (the colored part of the eye), preventing the fluid from flowing out and raising the pressure within the eye.
Glaucoma often develops slowly, without causing symptoms. However, over time, you may experience symptoms such as blurry vision, eye pain, nausea, redness of your eyes, and tunnel vision, which may ultimately result in vision loss. If you are managing type 2 diabetes, visit your eye doctor for a comprehensive eye examination once you notice these symptoms.
Treatment does not reverse any damage already done to your vision but can prevent more damage. Treatment options include eye drops to reduce pressure, laser therapy, and certain eye surgeries.
The eyes’ lens allows light to pass through your eyes to focus on an object, just like a camera. Unfortunately, when you have cataracts, the images formed become cloudy. In addition, high blood sugar can make tiny dirt form on your lens. As a result, your eyes won’t be able to focus on objects properly, and you’ll get blurry vision.
Anyone can have a cataract, but people with diabetes risk developing it at a younger age. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, and too much exposure to the sun.
At first, there are usually no symptoms. But with time, you may have blurry vision, double vision, sensitivity to light, and tunnel vision.
Wearing sunglasses and increasing the brightness around your home will often help improve your vision. However, surgery is the only way to treat the condition permanently.
This is also known as diabetes keratopathy. The cornea of type 2 diabetes patients is constantly exposed to high glucose levels. This results in the accumulation of products that cause damage to the cornea (the transparent part of the front of the eye).
In this condition, there is a decrease in corneal sensitivity, dryness of the eyes, reduction in the production of tears, and changes in the composition of tears. These changes may compromise the quality of your vision or lead to permanent loss of vision.
Treatment includes medications that clear up the harmful substances that affect the cornea and dry eye therapy.
As someone with type 2 diabetes, you can protect your eyes from complications of the condition by doing the following:
- Keep your blood sugar level within the normal range: regulating your blood glucose is the most effective way to prevent eye damage from type 2 diabetes. Ensure you follow your diabetes management plans strictly. This includes appropriate diabetes meal plans, regular exercise, and drug use.
- Quit smoking: smoking is a risk factor that worsens your diabetes and makes you prone to eye diseases and other diabetes complications. You may talk to your doctor or see an expert if quitting is difficult.
- Keep your blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels within a healthy range: keeping your blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels at normal ranges improves your diabetes management and reduce your risk of diabetic eye diseases.
- Get a regular dilated eye exam: getting a dilated eye exam at least once a year has been recommended to protect your eyes from diabetes eye diseases or worsening of the condition if you have it already. In addition, it will help your doctor find out what the problems are on time and treat them accordingly.
Type 2 diabetes can affect your eyes, leading to poor vision and sometimes total blindness. These diseases, such as glaucoma, cataract, and macular edema, develop due to the high blood sugar that characterizes diabetes.