Around 30 million people in the United States are diabetic. Diabetes significantly increases the risk for vision loss and blindness, and the longer a person has diabetes, the greater their risk. This November, we’re observing National Diabetic Eye Disease Month. Our goal is to spread awareness of one of the leading causes of blindness and offer helpful resources to those who may be at risk of developing diabetic eye disease.
Types of Diabetic Eye Diseases
The main types of diabetic eye diseases are:
- Diabetic retinopathy, an eye condition that affects the blood vessels in the retina (the light-sensitive layer of tissue in the back of the eye). This disease is the leading cause of blindness among working-class Americans, impacting about 5.3 million people. Later symptoms may include blurry vision, floating spots, and blindness. Treatments for diabetic retinopathy include injections, laser treatments or surgery.
- Cataracts are cloudy areas in the lens of your eye. They may not be apparent right away, but over time vision may become blurry, hazy or less colorful. More than half of Americans over the age of 80 have cataracts or have had cataract removal surgery, which is a safe procedure that can correct blurred vision.
How To Prevent Diabetic Retinopathy & Cataracts
- Receive dilated eye exams regularly. There are typically no early symptoms of any of these diseases, making it crucial for those with diabetes to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. Pregnant women who have diabetes should get an eye exam in their first trimester, as diabetic eye diseases can develop rapidly during pregnancy.
- Learn how to manage your blood sugar. High blood sugar (glucose) levels damage the small blood vessels that provide oxygen and other vital nutrients to the retina, nerves and other soft tissues in your eyes. The damage usually begins in the prediabetic phase when our blood sugar is higher than normal, but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis. Most diabetic eye diseases begin with damage to the blood vessels. Maintaining a healthy blood sugar level can prevent you from losing your vision.
- Maintain your blood pressure and cholesterol. The blood vessels in your eyes are negatively impacted when you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels. Monitoring your blood pressure and cholesterol consistently can prevent unnecessary damage to your eyes.
- Incorporate exercise and a healthy diet into your life. A nutrient-rich diet and consistent exercise assist in controlling diabetes and can benefit your eye health. We encourage you to speak to your doctor about creating a plan to maintain your diet and physical activity.
If you notice any changes to your eyesight, schedule an eye exam immediately. Flashes of light, floating spots, or hazy vision may be symptoms of a serious issue that requires immediate medical attention. Seeking help early can prevent you from developing a diabetic eye disease resulting in loss of vision or blindness.