4 Ways Diabetes Can Affect Your Eyes (And Treatment Options)

Diabetes

In this article, we’ll discuss how diabetes affects your eyes and a few treatment options.

Overview

The condition of consistently high blood sugar levels is called diabetes or diabetes mellitus. Diabetes is becoming a growingly common illness around the globe. The reason behind this is a lifestyle that has become extremely sedentary. Humans today spend on an average of nearly 20 hours of their day sitting in one spot or sleeping. This period of inactivity has long-term side effects on the body.

Diabetes is a fatal lifestyle disease that kills more than a million people each year globally. Generally, it is caused because of the poorly functioning pancreas.

The human eye is a biological marvel. Our eyes enable us to see a wide spectrum of colors, which shape our visual perception of this world. It is impossible to imagine the world without our eyes, quite literally. Taking care of the eyes becomes even more necessary if you have any existing medical condition (specifically one that affects blood flow). Many illnesses target the eyes, and diabetes is one of them.

Diabetes And Eyes

Diabetes results due to the buildup of sugar in the blood vessels and bloodstream. This leads to nerve damage. If this nerve damage occurs in or around the eye, it creates visual impairments. Diabetic retinopathy is the most common form of diabetes-related eye illness. 

According to statistics, around 40% of diabetics in the United States have some or the other form of diabetic retinopathy. There are several other ways in which diabetes affects your eyes.

1. Blurry Vision

It is one of the most common ways in which diabetes affects your eyes. You may experience blurry vision often if you are a diabetic. However, that does not necessarily mean you need new prescription lenses. On the contrary, it can be an outcome of high blood sugar levels as high blood sugar levels can result in the swelling of your eye lens.  

This condition can be treated by bringing your blood sugar levels back to normal. However, that is not an easy task. It requires continuous monitoring of one’s diet and insulin doses. It may take around 3 months to bring your vision back to normal. 

Although you will need to visit your ophthalmologist and tell them about this issue even after your vision has returned to normal. The ophthalmologist will conduct a detailed eye examination to check for any underlying conditions.

2. Cataract

The clouding of the eye lens is known as a cataract. It usually affects people of older age. However, due to injury or tissue damage, anyone can get cataracts. Diabetics are at an increased risk of cataract, as high blood sugar can lead to optic nerve damage in the eye region.

Cataract can affect either or both the eyes. You cannot see clearly when the lens is clouded. Likewise, your eyes have difficulty focusing the way they should. Surgery is often required to treat cataracts as the doctor replaces the clouded lens with an artificial one.

3. Diabetic Retinopathy

One of the most harmful eye conditions occurring due to diabetes is diabetic retinopathy. When high blood sugar levels damage the retina, it causes diabetic retinopathy. The retina is the part of the eye responsible for sending signals to the brain. These signals are sent through the optic nerve when light falls on the retina.

Over time, high blood sugar levels block the fine blood vessels of the eye. To make up for this damage, new blood vessels are formed. Unfortunately, these new blood vessels do not function properly due to unhealthy surroundings. As a result, they bleed and blood in the eye.

Diabetic retinopathy has various types:

  • Maculopathy
  • Background retinopathy
  • Proliferative retinopathy

Any kind of diabetic retinopathy needs to be closely monitored. Failure to do so might cause permanent vision loss. 

However, there is good news as well. If you are constantly monitoring your blood sugar and insulin levels, you need not worry. Diabetic retinopathy occurs only if your blood sugar levels are not kept under the prescribed limits. Additionally, diabetic retinopathy is rare in patients with type 1 diabetes.

4. Glaucoma

It is a condition that occurs due to increased pressure in the eye. The eyes of healthy individuals can usually discharge eye fluids with zero efforts. However, this is not the case with glaucoma. In glaucoma, the fluid is not properly drained by the eye. It starts to accumulate in the eye itself and damages the blood vessels. This situation may also cause changes in vision. 

Lack of proper and timely treatment of glaucoma can cause permanent blindness. The most common form of glaucoma is known as open-angle glaucoma. Fortunately, this form of glaucoma can be treated by medications. Your ophthalmologist will prescribe you medicines that will speed up the drainage. Consequently, these remedies will also reduce the amount of fluid made by the eye.

Open-angle glaucoma may not exhibit any symptoms until it has caused a significant loss of vision. Nevertheless, your doctor won’t let that happen. He will diagnose the early warning signs during your eye examination.

Some symptoms of glaucoma may include:

  • Headache
  • Halos around lights
  • Watery eyes
  • Blurred vision

Surgery may also be prescribed in some cases of glaucoma. Additionally, the advent of laser technology has made glaucoma surgery less time consuming and less painful.

Treatments Options

Diabetic retinopathy has a treatment approach different from other eye illnesses. In this case, the doctors use a two-pronged methodology for treatment. The first aim is to tackle the main culprit, i.e. diabetes. This is done by prescription drugs and lifestyle changes. In most cases, synthetic insulin via injections is used by the patients. Some of the most common insulin injections include Novolin R, Humalog, Apidra, and Novolog.

The next focus is to treat the eye. This requires the consultation of your ophthalmologist. He or she will assess the condition of your eye and then design a suitable treatment plan for you.

The following are some common ways to treat diabetic retinopathy:

  • Anti-VEGF shots – To inhibit the growth of the VGEF protein that creates blood vessels. The new blood vessels intensify eye swellings. Eyelea, Avastin, and Lucentis are the three anti-VGEF injections used in this treatment. 
  • Focal-Grid Macular Surgery
  • Corticosteroids – Steroid drugs that target inflammation to reduce retinal swelling.

Diabetes is primarily concerned with high blood sugar levels. However, it has the possibility of adversely affecting eye health. Diabetics are at an increased risk of diseases like cataracts and glaucoma. It could also result in conditions like diabetic retinopathy. However, timely diagnosis can help in receiving proper treatment for the same. On the contrary, if you take care of your blood glucose levels and insulin doses, you need not worry about eye issues due to diabetes.