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, foot damage, 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.
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 be more at risk. Additionally, blood-glucose management also affects the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.
What Causes Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy occurs because of prolonged high-sugar levels in the blood. This increased sugar level will eventually block the tiny blood vessels that nourish the eyes. 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 retinal blood vessels leak, resulting in the swelling of the macula (macular edema). 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).
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.
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
- 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.
Conditions That May Arise from Diabetic Retinopathy
Unfortunately, diabetic retinopathy can cause other serious eye conditions, such as:
- Retinal detachment. When the tiny blood vessels proliferate, they may cause scarring. The scar can “pull” the retina away from its original position, causing the detachment. If this happens, you may see spots and flashes of light.
- Glaucoma. 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.
And the worst of all the resulting eye conditions is total and permanent vision loss. Both diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma can cause this.
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.
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.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.