Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that results in elevated blood sugar levels either due to insufficient insulin production or because the body's mechanism to utilize insulin is disrupted.
There are a number of ways that diabetes, particularly when it is not controlled by medication, diet or exercise, can damage your eyes.
The most common diabetic eye disease is one that can lead to destruction of the blood vessels that lead to the retina. This is called diabetic retinopathy and is one of the most frequent causes of vision loss in adults.
The retina is the light-sensitive tissue located at the back of the eye, which is a necessary component for proper vision. Retinal damage can cause irreversible vision loss. While controlling diabetes reduces the chances of developing diabetic retinopathy, it does not entirely eliminate the risk and consequently it is crucial to have your eyes examined every year if you have diabetes.
Blood sugar levels that fluctuate periodically can also impact vision. Since glucose levels have an impact on the ability of your lens to focus, this can result in blurred vision that varies with blood sugar levels.
Cataracts, or a clouding of the lens of the eye, can also develop in diabetics. While cataracts are common in people over a certain age, the chance of developing the condition at a younger age is higher in individuals with diabetes.
A person with diabetes is two times more likely to develop glaucoma, an elevation in pressure in the optic nerve resulting in optic nerve damage and eventually blindness.
The optimal prevention for diabetic eye disease is for diabetics to control their glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, to eat properly, exercise and refrain from smoking. Since eye damage is often not noticeable until damage has occurred it is essential to schedule annual retinal exams with an optometrist to detect any problems early on. While it is common that any loss of sight caused by any of these conditions is irreparable, early diagnosis and treatment can often slow continuing damage and disease progression.