Diabetes is a disease that affects the way the human body handles blood sugar. While many people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are aware of the danger it poses to heart health and the peripheral nerves, it can also have a significant impact on the eyes in a variety of ways. This includes an increased risk of blindness as well as many other eye health disorders.

With many of these conditions, the effects of diabetes on the eyes can be so gradual that it goes unnoticed. This is why routine eye exams are so important for diabetics, to catch these issues and possibly treat them, or reduce the risk of serious complications in the future.

Blood sugar imbalances related to diabetes can affect different parts of the eye, which can cause or accelerate a wide range of eye conditions.

Diabetes And Glaucoma

Glaucoma is related to a gradual pressure buildup in the eyes. As time goes on, this pressure starts to pinch on the blood vessels that carry blood to the retina as well as the optic nerve. The damage causes your vision to gradually worsen. The decrease in visual acuity is often hard to detect at first, then accelerates. Diabetics are more likely to suffer from glaucoma, and the risk increases with time as well as age.

Fortunately, a routine eye exam will detect the early stages of glaucoma. The severity of the damage to the retina and optic nerve will influence the treatment strategy needed to arrest the problem. This might include prescription medications to reduce pressure in the eye or surgical intervention.

Diabetes And Cataracts

Cataracts are an eye health condition that can impact anyone, though people with diabetes are increasingly likely to develop cataracts. Especially at an earlier age. As it develops the lens of the eye starts to cloud up, obscuring visual clarity

People with a mild case of cataracts sometimes need to wear glare-control lenses or wear sunglasses. In a more severe case of cataracts where the vision is greatly impaired, the physician might recommend a treatment plan that calls for removing the lens of the eye to replace it with a special type of artificial lens. Retinopathy can worsen for diabetics after lens removal and can leave them at increased risk of retinopathy.

The Different Types Of Retinopathy

There are two forms of retinopathy, known as proliferative and non-proliferative. With proliferative retinopathy new vessel form on the inner surface of the retina which can threaten vision via retinal detachment or a vitreous hemorrhage.

Non-proliferative retinopathy is more common with diabetes and occurs when the capillaries at the back of the eye swell to form small pouch-like structures. It can move through 3 stages from mild to moderate to severe. As it progresses it and can block the blood vessels that feed the essential structures in the eye.

Treating Diabetic Retinopathy

Significant advancements have been made in the treatment of diabetic retinopathy. This includes treatment strategies like:

Scatter photocoagulation

This treatment strategy is designed to slow the growth of abnormal blood vessels that develop over a wide area of the retina. Your eye doctor might make hundreds of laser burns on the retina to further prevent the blood vessels from growing. This treatment strategy reduces the risk of blindness from complications caused by vitreous hemorrhage or retinal detachment. Though it only tends to be effective for mild to moderate cases of retinopathy. It’s worth noting that this treatment plan is ineffective in a severe case where the retina has already detached or a significant amount of blood has leaked into the eye

Focal photocoagulation

Also known as retinal laser therapy, or focal laser photocoagulation. It can be performed on an outpatient basis to treat diabetic retinopathy as well as macular edema. The tiny burns effectively seal the blood vessels to prevent them from growing and leaking. Afterward, the patient may experience blurred vision for a few days and a possible decrease in peripheral vision.

Vitrectomy

This treatment strategy is used to improve a severe case of retinopathy to help prevent blindness. It’s designed to remove some of the vitreous humor gel that fills the eye cavity. It typically allows greater access to do things like remove scar tissue, repair retinal detachment, or treat macular holes.

Macular Edema Risk & Diabetes

With macular edema, the capillary walls inside the eyes may lose their ability to control the passage of substances between the blood and the retina itself. As it progresses excess fluid can leak into the structures of the eye that are responsible for focusing. This gradual increase gradually blurs the vision and can result in blindness.

There are two different treatment plans to address macular edema. Your eye doctor will assess your eyes to determine the one that is right for you.

Focal Laser Therapy

This treatment strategy is designed to slow the leakage of fluid in the eye. It’s often used in conjunction with special medications that can be directly injected into the eye. The treatment goal is to slow the growth of new blood vessels while further reducing the leakage of fluid into the macula.

VGEF Injection Treatments

This is a relatively new treatment for macular degeneration and retinopathy. It calls for injecting a special hormone medication known as “Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor,” or VEGF into the eye. The VEGF promotes new blood vessel growth. Though the treatment process may occur over several months.

People With Diabetes At Increased Risk For Retinopathy & Other Eye Health Problems

Several factors can put you at a higher risk of suffering retinopathy. Many of them are also symptoms of diabetes. This includes issues like blood sugar management problems and high blood pressure. Genetics can also play a factor in an individual’s risk of suffering from retinopathy.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the longer you’ve had diabetes the more at risk you are for suffering retinopathy and other eye health issues. Some of which can lead to significant visual impairment and even blindness.

Monitoring your blood sugar and blood pressure is certainly important for people with diabetes. Being able to catch an issue early on, makes it easier for physicians to develop an effective treatment plan. A routine eye exam is also a critical step in maintaining healthy eyes. It can also be a first step in diagnosing other underlying health concerns.