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Diabetes and Eye Disease - 8 Facts You Should Know

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Updated April 01, 2009

If you have diabetes, are you aware of your risk for losing your vision? Eye disease associated with diabetes can cause blindness. Knowing the following facts about diabetic eye disease may help lower your risk of vision loss.

1. Diabetes May Lead to Eye Disease

Several factors influence whether you develop diabetic eye disease (diabetic retinopathy) including blood sugar control, blood pressure levels, and genetics. Keeping blood sugar levels close to normal will greatly reduce the chance of developing diabetic eye disease or you will have a milder form of the disease.

2. There May Be No Warning

Some people receive no warning signs of diabetic eye disease, but sometimes the following symptoms develop:
  • Blurry vision
  • Double vision
  • Rings, flashing lights, or blank spots
  • Dark spots or floaters
  • Pain or pressure in the eyes
  • Trouble seeing out of the corners of your eyes

3. Diabetic Patients Need Annual Dilated Eye Exams

Regular eye exams are important for early detection of eye disease. Make sure that your eye doctor dilates your eyes, as this gives a much more detailed view of the retina. If caught in the early stages, diabetic eye disease can be treated before severe vision loss occurs.

4. Controlling Diabetes Won't Prevent Diabetic Eye Disease

Even if your blood glucose levels are steady, diabetic eye disease can still develop. However, carefully managing blood sugar levels may slow the onset and progression of diabetic retinopathy.

5. People with Diabetes May Develop Glaucoma

People with diabetes are 40% more likely to suffer from glaucoma than people without diabetes. The longer someone has had diabetes, the more common glaucoma is. Risk also increases with age.

6. People with Diabetes May Develop Cataracts

If you have diabetes, your chances of developing cataracts is increased. People with diabetes tend to get cataracts at a younger age and have them progress faster.

7. Diabetic Retinopathy Damages the Retina

When blood sugar levels become too high, blood vessels in the retina weaken. The blood and fluid inside the blood vessels begins to leak out. New blood vessels grow, but they are fragile and may leak fluid. This causes the retina to swell and become deprived of nutrients and oxygen, causing vision loss and possibly blindness.

8. Laser Surgery Slows the Progression of Diabetic Eye Disease

Laser surgery can be used to shrink the abnormal blood vessels or seal leaking blood vessels in the retina. The risk of vision loss from diabetic retinopathy is greatly reduced in some people after having laser surgery.

Source: Understanding Diabetes Related Eye Conditions Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), 10 Jun 2006.

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