Diabetes is a condition in which the body does not create (Type 1) or properly respond to (Type 2) insulin. Insulin is the hormone responsible for breaking down and delivering sugar, or glucose to our cells to be used as energy. When the body’s blood sugar levels are not stable, it can affect several important body functions and processes; this includes the processes and functions of the eyes.
Blood sugar levels that are either too high or too low can damage the eyes and cause diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is a blanket term for eye disorders caused by diabetes. Unfortunately, at least 40-45 percent of people with diabetes experience retinopathy to some extent, and it is the leading cause of reversible blindness in the United States.1
Blurry vision is one of the first indications of diabetic retinopathy and can signal the onset of several conditions. One of these occurs when elevated blood sugar levels cause the blood vessels in the eye to swell, a condition known as “macular edema.” Not only does this cause blurry vision, but it can lead to more serious problems. If these blood vessels leak, a condition known as “proliferative retinopathy” occurs, which can also cause an individual to see spots or have trouble with night vision, as well as blurred vision.
In addition to these conditions, diabetes also increases the chances of developing cataracts by 60 percent.2 Cataracts occur when the normally-clear lens of the eye becomes cloudy. Diabetes also increases the chance of developing glaucoma, which occurs when high pressure damages the nerve that connects and sends signals between the eyes and the brain.
Fortunately, the vision disorders caused by diabetes are largely preventable. Here are some ways to protect the health and functions of your eyes:
An important characteristic of diabetic-induced blurred vision is the sudden onset of the blurriness. Often high blood sugar can have an immediate effect on the lens of the eye, and if blood sugar is regulated and managed more strictly, the eye will return to normal. It is important to contact your doctor immediately if you experience any symptoms, however, and make sure that you are comfortable in managing your blood sugar levels. With a proper nutrition, exercise, and medication plan as established with your doctor, lowering your blood sugar can reduce the chances of developing a vision disorder.
Because imbalanced blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels of the eye, it is very important to monitor blood pressure levels to prevent or reduce the severity of damage to these important vessels.
Diabetes can also cause permanent eye damage, which may present itself gradually. Because of the strong occurrence of eye problems with diabetes, it is important to get an eye exam soon after a diabetes diagnosis and continue having regular exams to prevent and diagnose any potential problems. It is important to have a comprehensive eye exam, including dilation, at these appointments to make sure any potential problems are noticed immediately.
Both cataracts and glaucoma are slow-developing conditions that worsen over time. Fortunately, they can be treated, but not always completely reversed. Cataracts develop slowly over time and one may not realize their presence until they interfere with regular activities. When this occurs, the cloudy lens can be easily replaced with an artificial lens in an outpatient procedure.
Because glaucoma involves more extensive nerve damage, it is more difficult to treat. There are eye drops, medications, and surgeries that can help restore vision to some extent and prevent further damage.
Although serious in nature, vision disorders caused by diabetes do not have to interfere with daily life if proper care is taken. If you experience blurry vision and are concerned about a possible vision disorder, contact an eye care professional who can help. Don’t leave the health and function of your eyes to chance, schedule an appointment with an eye doctor and be proactive in protecting your vision.