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Diabetes eye problems

If you have diabetes, regular eye examinations are important to detect and treat eye problems. These should be arranged by your diabetes health team as part of regular tests and screening.

High blood sugar (glucose) increases the risk of diabetes eye problems. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults aged 20 to 74.

Blurred vision can be a symptom of more serious eye problems with diabetes. The three major eye problems that people with diabetes may develop and should be aware of are cataracts, glaucoma, and retinopathy.

Cataracts and diabetes

A cataract is a clouding or fogging of the normally clear lens of the eye. The lens is what allows us to see and focus on an image just like a camera. Although anyone can get cataracts, people with diabetes get these eye problems at an earlier age than most and the condition progresses more rapidly than in people without diabetes.

If you have a cataract with diabetes, your eye cannot focus light and your vision is impaired. The symptoms of this eye problem in diabetes include blurred or glaring vision.

The treatment for cataracts is usually surgery to extract the lens, followed by insertion of a lens implant, with glasses or contact lenses as needed to further correct vision.

Glaucoma and diabetes

When fluid inside the eye does not drain away properly, a build-up of pressure inside the eye can lead to a condition called glaucoma. The pressure damages nerves and the vessels in the eye, causing changes in vision.

In the most common form of glaucoma, there may be no symptoms of this eye problem at all until the disease is very advanced and there is significant vision loss. In the less common form of this eye problem, symptoms can include headaches, eye aches or pain, blurred vision, watering eyes, halos round lights and loss of vision.

Treatment of this eye problem in diabetes can include special eye drops, laser procedures, medicine, or surgery. You can prevent serious eye problems in diabetes by getting an annual glaucoma screening from your optometrist.

Diabetic retinopathy

The retina contains a group of specialised cells that convert light as it enters though the lens into visual signals. The eye nerve or optic nerve transmits visual information to the brain.

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the vascular (blood-vessel related) complications related to diabetes. This diabetes eye problem is due to damage of small vessels and is called a "microvascular complication." Kidney disease and nerve damage due to diabetes are also microvascular complications. Large blood vessel damage (also called macrovascular complications) includes complications like heart disease and stroke.

The microvascular complications have, in numerous studies, been shown to be related to high blood sugar levels. You can reduce your risk of these eye-related diabetes complications by improving your blood sugar control.

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