Your eyes are not just a window to your soul—they happen to reveal a lot about your health! Nearly 30 million Americans, or 9.3% of the population, have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Of that number, an estimated 8.1 million cases are undiagnosed.
Diabetes is the leading cause of new onset blindness in adults in the United States. If you have the condition, your body cannot produce or effectively use insulin, which breaks down the glucose (sugar) in your blood. When your blood sugar gets too high, it can cause damage to different parts of your body, including your eyes.
“Diabetic eye disease” refers to a group of eye problems that people with diabetes may face as a complication of the condition. The good news? You can minimize the damage with regular eye exams.
Here’s everything you need to know about the three main diabetic eye diseases—and how to protect yourself.
It is the most common diabetic eye disease and the leading cause of blindness in adults. The disease usually affects both eyes and happens when blood vessels in the retina—the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye—become damaged. In some cases, the blood vessels might swell and leak fluid into the center of the eye, blurring vision, or abnormal new blood vessels may grow on the surface of the retina.
Anyone with diabetes (Type I or Type II) is at high risk for diabetic retinopathy. Indeed, between 40 to 45 percent of Americans with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy. Since there are no symptoms or pain in the early stages, it’s important to schedule a yearly comprehensive dilated eye exam, especially if you have diabetes.
A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye, which causes blurred vision. Most cataracts are age-related; by the age of 80, more than half of all Americans will either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery. However, cataracts tend to develop at an earlier age in people with diabetes. If you experience symptoms such as cloudy or blurry vision, notice more glare than usual or light halos, have poor night vision, double vision, or if colors seem faded, see your eye doctor or find one near you.
Glaucoma is a condition caused by pressure building up in the eye. This in turn damages the eye’s optic nerve and can lead to vision loss and blindness. A person with diabetes is nearly twice as likely to develop glaucoma as adults without diabetes.
There are no symptoms or pain as the pressure builds in your eye. As glaucoma progresses, you slowly lose your peripheral vision. If left untreated, you may start to miss objects to the side and out of the corner of your eye. Eventually, it will feel like you’re looking through a tunnel, and your field of vision may narrow until you can’t see anything. With early detection and treatment, you can protect against serious vision loss. Glaucoma can be detected through regular eye exams and controlled in most cases with medicated eye drops.