For Your Eyes Only

Blood glucose that’s higher than normal for many years can cause a slow loss of vision and blindness. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) poorly controlled blood glucose causes more than 10,000 people each year to become blind.

However, there is good news. A few simple steps taken each day and an eye examination once a year can help reduce your chances of losing all or part of your vision.

How Diabetes Affect Eyes

Diabetes can cause several eye problems—diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and glaucoma.

Diabetic Retinopathy: This is the most common diabetes-related eye problem. It is the damage caused over time by years of high blood glucose and high blood pressure levels to the tiny blood vessels in the retinas of the eyes.

Here’s what happens: First, tiny blood vessels in the retina of the eye swell and weaken. Next, new blood vessels grow but they are weak and break easily. When they break, they leak blood into the vitreous fluid, which is in the eye. This leads to loss of vision.

The treatment is laser therapy. A beam of light is used to close off the blood vessels that leak. Laser therapy slows the loss of sight and can prevent blindness.

Cataracts: A cataract is a thin tissue that forms over the lens of the eye and makes things look cloudy. The treatment is surgery to remove the cataract. A plastic lens that stays in your eye, like a contact lens, replaces the lens that is taken out. Cataracts occur more often and at a younger age in people with diabetes.

Glaucoma: Glaucoma is the result of a buildup of pressure in the eye. Over time, this damages the optic nerve—the eye’s main nerve. The damage first causes loss of peripheral vision—sight from the side. The treatment is daily eye drops. This lowers the pressure. Glaucoma occurs more often and at a younger age in people with diabetes. Detect any problems early and treat them quickly.

Steps to take include:

  1. Know the risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Get diagnosed as early as possible. It’s known that diabetic retinopathy starts to develop about seven years before people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
  2. Keep your blood glucose as close to normal as possible.
  3. Keep your blood pressure in good control (<130/80). Take blood pressure medicines if you need them.
  4. Do not smoke.
  5. Have an eye exam every year. This can be done by an eye doctor, either an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Let the doctor know you have diabetes. Make sure he or she does a “dilated eye exam.” This test shows if your retinas are healthy or not. Also, make sure you are checked for cataracts and glaucoma.
  6. If your eye doctor finds a problem take the steps he or she suggests to treat the problem
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