Most people with diabetes have heard that they need to have their eyes checked on a regular basis. But how many of them actually know why?
Diabetes has such a profound impact on your general health and usually creates symptoms that are noticeable and urgent. So it makes sense that people forget about the impact diabetes can have on their eyes, particularly when symptoms are seldom noticed until they’ve already lost a significant portion of their vision.
I’m of the opinion that, if patients with diabetes understand exactly what diabetes does to their eyes, they’re more likely to stick to a regular eye exam schedule. So let’s dive into diabetes and find out exactly how it can impact your vision.
How Does Diabetes Affect Vision?
Diabetes makes it difficult for your body to regulate your blood sugar. After a while, high blood sugar can damage the delicate blood vessels in your eyes, which leads to diabetic eye disease.
Can I Go Blind From Diabetes?
The unfortunate short answer is yes; you can go blind from diabetes-related eye issues. However, that’s not to say that you will go blind. If you monitor your blood sugar and keep it under control as much as you can, your eyes are less likely to sustain damage.
Beyond that, seeing your optometrist as often as needed will help ensure any potential eye health concerns are detected and treated early, preserving more of your vision.
Diabetic Eye Disease
The term diabetic eye disease is really a catch-all phrase to describe any eye disease that develops as a result of diabetes. More often than not, diabetic eye disease refers to diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema.
As high blood glucose levels damage the blood vessels in the retina, they can start to leak blood and fluid into the eye. Your eye may try to replace these damaged blood vessels by growing new ones; however, the new blood vessels are weak and irregular and can create scar tissue, which impacts your vision.
Diabetic Macular Edema
If diabetic retinopathy is untreated, it can develop into diabetic macular edema. The macula is a small area of the retina that’s responsible for your central vision, which allows you to read words and recognize facial features.
As damaged retinal blood vessels continue to leak, the retina swells. The swelling continues to worsen until the macula is completely obscured by the inflamed retinal tissue.
Symptoms to Watch For
While diabetic eye disease does present symptoms, most noticeable symptoms don’t appear until your eyes have already undergone significant damage, which is why it’s so important to see your optometrist regularly.
Symptoms of diabetic eye disease may include:
- Blurry vision
- Dark spots
- Compromised colour vision
- Inconsistent vision
- Vision loss
Understanding the Risk Factors
In addition to diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema, diabetes increases your risk of developing a number of other eye diseases. If you are living with diabetes, you are more likely to develop:
- Age-related macular degeneration
How Often Should I Really Visit My Optometrist?
If you have diabetes, you need to see your optometrist at least once a year. While your general practitioner may perform basic vision testing, this will not be enough to catch diabetic eye disease in its early stages.
Your optometrist has access to specialized testing equipment that can evaluate your retinal health and potentially save your eyesight before you notice any vision loss. Of course, you should continue to see your family doctor, but you need to see your optometrist as well.
It’s important to note that annual eye exams are just a baseline. If you have already developed vision issues due to diabetes, or have other risk factors in play, your optometrist may want to see you more often. It’s absolutely crucial is that you see your optometrist exactly as often as they recommend. It’s the best and only way to protect your eyesight from diabetes-related damage.