Diabetes—a condition that can cause vision complications—affects millions of Americans. According to the CDC, a recent 2020 study found that about 34.2 million Americans (or over one in ten) have diabetes. And another 88 million American adults (or approximately 1 in 3 adults) have prediabetes.
Given the prevalence of diabetes in the country and the impact it has on your vision, among other things, it’s important that patients know whether they’re at risk for diabetes, how the condition can affect their health, and how to manage it. This Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, local eye doctor Clearfinity Eyecare Optometrist compiled a guide to help you manage your condition.
Risk Factors for Diabetes
Another statistic found by the CDC’s study was that the number of adult patients with prediabetes who were aware they had the condition doubled in the period between 2005 and 2016. Prediabetes is a condition wherein your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes, which develops when either the body becomes resistant to insulin—the hormone that controls the amount of glucose in your bloodstream—or is unable to produce enough insulin.
Risk Factors for Prediabetes
What are the risk factors for prediabetes?
Family history of diabetes
An overweight BMI
Age over 45 years
Sedentary lifestyle (not being physically active less than 3 times a week)
Even before it progresses to Type 2 diabetes, prediabetes could already be damaging a patient’s blood vessels. Fortunately, prediabetes can be prevented from progressing to Type 2 diabetes through appropriate lifestyle changes. That’s why patients at increased risk of developing diabetes should routinely see an or general practitioner.
Risk Factors for Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes develops when your immune system mistakenly destroys the insulin-making cells in your pancreas. The risk factors for this condition isn’t as clear as the ones for prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes, but there are two known risk factors:
Family history – You’re at higher risk of developing diabetes if someone in your family has the condition
Age – Patients can be at risk for Type 1 diabetes, regardless of their age, but younger patients are more likely to develop this condition.
Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes
An overweight BMI
Age (Your risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes increases as you age; those aged 45 and older are especially at risk)
How Diabetes Affects Your Eyesight
Diabetes increases your risk for certain vision complications and conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma. Here’s an overview of these conditions and their corresponding symptoms:
Diabetic retinopathy develops when high sugar levels cause blockages in tiny blood vessels that supply blood to the retina (the thin light-sensitive tissue at the back of your eye that converts the light received through the lenses into neural signals that are then transmitted to the brain).
Who’s at risk? Patients that suffer from type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes (a type of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy). The longer you have had diabetes and the higher your blood sugar levels, the higher your risk for diabetic retinopathy. Other risk factors include high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
What are the symptoms? The early stages of diabetic retinopathy usually don’t have any symptoms, but in the more advanced stages, the blood vessels in the retina may bleed into the vitreous or the gel-like fluid in the center of the eye, causing floaters or dark spots in a patient’s vision. Other symptoms include blurred vision, fluctuating vision, impaired color vision, pain in the eyes, or in severe cases vision loss. Sometimes, the symptoms will resolve on their own, but without proper treatment, the bleeding in the retina may return and cause scarring. That’s why if you’re at risk for diabetes and experience any of the aforementioned symptoms, it’s important that you see an optometrist as soon as possible.
High blood sugar levels can also cause cataracts or the clouding of the lens (the transparent thin disc) in your eye. Cataracts are usually found in patients aged 60 and above. However, younger patients with diabetes are reported to be up to five times more likely to develop cataracts.
Who’s at risk? As mentioned earlier, older patients and those with a family history of diabetes are at risk. Other risk factors include nutritional deficiency (low levels of antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and carotenoids), excessive drinking, prolonged unprotected exposure to ultraviolet rays, and long-term steroid use.
What are the symptoms? Like diabetic retinopathy, cataracts don’t produce symptoms in the early stages. However, as the condition progresses, the patient may experience symptoms such as blurry vision or double vision, a feeling there’s a film covering your eyes, sensitivity to bright lights or seeing halos around lights, and difficulty seeing at night.
Glaucoma is a term for a group of diseases that can damage your optical nerve and left untreated may cause permanent vision loss.
Who’s at risk? Diabetes doubles a patient’s chances of developing glaucoma. Other risk factors include age (patients aged over 60 are six times more likely to develop glaucoma), steroid use (some studies have observed a link between the use of steroids and glaucoma), previous eye injuries (previous eye trauma can damage the eye’s drainage systems).
What are the symptoms? It depends on the type of glaucoma. Here’s an overview:
Open-angle glaucoma – Open-angle glaucoma—the most common type of glaucoma—is caused by clogged drainage canals, which can increase eye pressure. Symptoms include blind spots in the peripheral (side) and central vision, and eventually, tunnel vision.
Angle-closure glaucoma – This type of glaucoma develops when the iris bulges and blocks the drainage angle. In the process, it cuts off circulation and increases eye pressure. Symptoms include blurry vision, severe headaches, pain in the eyes or red eyes, seeing halos around lights, and nausea and vomiting. If you experience any of these symptoms, see your optometrist as soon as possible.
Normal-tension glaucoma – Patients with normal-tension glaucoma have damaged optic nerves even though their eye pressure is well within the normal pressure range of 12-22 mm Hg. Researchers still don’t know the exact cause of this condition.
Diabetic Eye Screening
It’s recommended that patients who have diabetes and aged 12 and above see their optometrist for an eye screening or dilated eye exam every year. As mentioned earlier, diabetic vision complications usually don’t produce any symptoms in the early stages. If these complications are treated before they progress, their impact on your vision can be reduced.
Eye Care Tips for Patients with Diabetes
Control your blood sugar – High blood glucose levels can cause blockages in the thin blood vessels of your retina.
Exercise more – Daily exercise can have a positive effect on your glucose levels and vision health.
Quit smoking – Smoking can also affect blood vessels and is considered to be a risk factor for several diseases, which is why it’s best to kick the habit. Quitting is never easy, but you can always ask your general practitioner for help or join a local program or group for support.
Monitor your blood pressure – The ideal range for patients with diabetes is less than 130/80.
Monitor your cholesterol levels – Keep in mind there’s good high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) and bad low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is linked to blood vessel damage.
Eat a balanced diet – Olive oil, beans and legumes, nuts, and fatty fish are all excellent sources of HDL cholesterol. Incorporate more leafy green vegetables, which are rich in eye-friendly nutrients such as lutein, zeaxanthin, and Vitamin C.
For more tips on preventing diabetic vision complications and maintaining your vision health, consult your local optometrist.
Clearfinity Eyecare Optometrist provides quality eye care and vision correction services. With our friendly and experienced staff, you can feel comfortable and well-cared for in our office. To schedule an appointment, call us at (703) 293-5222. We serve homeowners in Lorton and Newington, VA, as well as the surrounding communities.
Schedule an Appointment Today!