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How Does Diabetes Affect Your Vision?

How Does Diabetes Affect Your Vision?

Diabetes, a disease that impairs our body’s ability to use sugar, brings a lot of changes to a person’s body. Unknowingly, it could already be causing conditions, such as delayed wound healing, nerve damage that leads to foot problems, or infections to the skin. With all the possible complications, how can you tell if diabetes is affecting your eyes?

Diabetes and Vision

How can you tell if diabetes is affecting your eyes? To answer this question, we must define diabetic retinopathy and how it affects the retina.

The retina is a specialized tissue for vision, which converts the visible light into signals perceived by the brain. The retina’s unique vascular system provides nutrients and oxygen to the inner and outer retina, whose integrity is essential for sensing light.

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the many complications of diabetes. It happens when the blood vessels of the light-sensitive retina become damaged. Although both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can cause this eye condition, people who have had diabetes for a longer period will have a higher risk of developing it. Additionally, how well your blood-glucose is managed also affects the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.

Type 1 Diabetes And Type 2 Diabetes: What Are The Differences?

What Causes Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy occurs because of prolonged high-sugar levels in the blood. This increased sugar level can cause damage to the tiny blood vessels in the retina, eventually blocking them. Because of the blockage and the lack of nourishment, the blood vessels will weaken and become damaged.

To compensate, the eyes may try to develop a new set of blood vessels to nourish the organs. However, these weak blood vessels are usually ineffective and do not develop properly and leak easily.

Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy has 2 stages: non-proliferative and proliferative.

Non-Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (NPDR)

NPDR occurs when the macula (macular edema) and other nerve fibers in your retina and the wall of your retinal blood vessels weaken and develop tiny bulges or microaneurysms. These cause blockage of your arteries, eventually leading to the leakage of fluid and blood into the retina. The macula, found at the center of the retina, is responsible for our “keenest vision.” It is important because it provides the sharpness we need to read, drive, and see fine details. Additionally, macular edema is the most common cause of vision loss among diabetics.

NPDR can cause macular ischemia as well. It is a condition wherein the retinal blood vessels “close off.” This, of course, will lead to a lack of nourishment and affect a person’s vision.

Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (PDR)

PDR is the more serious stage of diabetic retinopathy. It is aptly named because it happens as the eyes try to “proliferate” additional blood vessels. Since the new vessels are weak, they may bleed and leak into the gel-like fluid at the center of the eyes (vitreous).

Scar tissue also develops in the area of the growth of new blood vessels. The scars can cause the detachment of your retina and also impedes the normal flow of blood. These can contribute to the increase in pressure in your eyes (glaucoma) that also damages your optic nerve (the nerve that carries visual information from the eye to the brain).

Furthermore, these new blood vessels can contribute to the increase of pressure in your eyes that can damage your optic nerve (the nerve that carries visual information from the eye to the brain). Should the newly-formed blood vessels grow in front of the eyes, disruption in the normal fluid flow may happen. This rained fluid will cause unnecessary pressure in the eyes, resulting in glaucoma.

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy is dangerous and may steal not just your peripheral vision, but also your central vision.

How Can You Tell if Diabetes is Affecting Your Eyes?

A person in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy may experience some signs and symptoms and think nothing of them because they are vague. They may find it difficult to see faraway objects and have trouble reading, but these signs may come and go.

If that is the case, then, how can you tell if diabetes is affecting your eyes? Unfortunately, you may only notice these when you are in the advanced stage of the retinopathy as the vast majority of patients who develop it have no symptoms until the very late stages of this condition.

The most common signs and symptoms include:

  • The presence of floaters in your vision; they come in the form of black strings (cobwebs) or spots that float in your vision
  • Blurred and fluctuating vision
  • Dark areas in your vision
  • Impaired color vision; you will notice that the colors seem “washed out” or faded
  • Poor night vision
  • Vision loss

How can you tell if diabetes is affecting your eyes? You have to pay close attention to the presence of floaters. This is because floaters often indicate that the blood vessels of the retina are bleeding and the blood already seeps through the vitreous. If there is little bleeding, you may see a few floaters. On the other hand, if the vessels bleed a lot (vitreous hemorrhage), then it might completely block your vision.

Even though there is a possibility that the floaters will clear on their own, do not ignore them. Without proper treatment, the bleeding may continue or reoccur, which will make the situation worse.

Treatment

Before seeking treatment, the best first step is to seek professional help to confirm a diagnosis. Diabetic retinopathy is best diagnosed through a comprehensive dilated eye exam.

In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, the doctor may just monitor how your eyes are doing. This is often the case for mild and moderate non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy. The best course of action at this point is to consult your diabetes doctor or endocrinologist about blood-sugar management.

For the advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy, immediate treatment is necessary. Treatment modalities include:

  • Injections. The doctor may inject some medication to reverse diabetic retinopathy. If a reversal is not possible, the injection may at least slow down the progression of the disease.
  • Laser treatment. You can also undergo a laser treatment to shrink the blood vessels and stop the leakage. This will help stop the swelling of the retina.
  • Vitrectomy. When there is vitreous hemorrhage, the doctor may advise the removal of some or all of the vitreous humor. This is also applicable if you have significant scarring. During vitrectomy, the doctor drains the gel-like substance inside the eye, allowing your doctor to clear any lingering blood and to remove scar tissue. The vitreous fluid is then replaced with a substitute fluid.

how can you tell if diabetes is affecting your eyes

Key Takeaways

How can you tell if diabetes is affecting your eyes? It’s hard to spot the signs of the condition in its initial stages. However, once spotted, you can seek immediate treatment of the disease. But this is not a guarantee that you will be able to prevent the condition.

To reduce the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, experts emphasize the need to manage the underlying condition, which is diabetes. This entails adopting a healthier lifestyle and controlling blood glucose levels. Additionally, all diabetics must have a dilated eye exam yearly to monitor the function of their eyes.

 

Learn more about Diabetes here.

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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated May 24
Medically reviewed by John Paul Ferolino Abrina, M.D.
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