Avoiding Vision Loss from Diabetes

For older adults with diabetes, loss of vision is a serious problem. If left untreated, diabetes can lead to increasingly blurry vision, even to blindness. The good news is that with timely treatment, careful control of blood sugar levels and regular follow-up, vision loss from diabetes can often be reduced or even eliminated.

Diabetic Retinopathy

The most common form of vision loss is diabetic retinopathy for those with diabetes. It takes place when high blood sugar causes tiny blood vessels in the eye to grow and occasionally leak blood and other fluids onto the retina.

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include:

  • Seeing spots or floaters
  • Blurred vision
  • Having a dark or empty spot in the center of your vision
  • Difficulty seeing well at night

In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, people may not experience any symptoms. For that reason, it is important to have an eye exam every year. By getting their vision tested every year, people with diabetes can get an early diagnosis for any potential problems. With that yearly examination, doctors will typically check for:

  • Changes in blood vessels
  • Leaky blood vessels
  • Changes in the lens
  • Damage to nerve tissue

Damage to vision can be held at a minimum by keeping blood sugar and blood pressure levels under control. It also helps to take all medications as prescribed, staying active and eating proper foods. But the best way to prevent diabetic retinopathy is to get tested. With an eye exam, the doctor can also test for other diabetic eye disorders identified by the National Eye Institute , part of the National Institutes of Health, including:

Prevention is Key

It’s vital to get vision tests at least yearly if you have diabetes, even if you have no symptoms. While most diabetes-related eye problems are relatively minor, blindness from diabetes-related complications is still a major issue.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) says most people with diabetes may develop eye disorders like “floaters” (dark spots or strings floating in your vision), blurred eyesight, or less-than-perfect color vision. But the ADA also says nobody should be lulled into false security and offers insight and information on eye care and eye complications to avoid problems that may eventually lead to blindness.

Major eye disorders linked to diabetes include:

  • Cataracts cloud an eye’s clear lens and block light. People without diabetes get cataracts, but diabetics are 60 percent more likely to get them, can be younger and often see cataracts progress more quickly.
  • Glaucoma – a building of pressure in the eye, which pinches the blood vessels that carry blood to the retina and optic nerve causing vision loss due to damage to the retina and nerve.
  • Retinopathy – a general term referring to two types of retinal disorders—nonproliferative retinopathy, which causes capillaries in the back of the eye to balloon and block blood vessels; and
  • Macular edema - makes fluid leak into the focal point of the eye, causing blurred vision.

See your eye doctor at least once a year if you have any type of diabetes and more often if your doctor directs. It’s a small price to pay to keep your eyesight.

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