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How Diabetes Affects Vision

Diabetes is a disorder that affects the metabolic process that causes elevated blood glucose (sugar) levels either because of insufficient insulin production or because the body's mechanism to utilize insulin is disrupted.

The risk of eye damage is increased when diabetes is not treated. Diabetic eye disease can come in a few different ways.

Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of vision loss in adults. This condition occurs when increased glucose levels cause the retinal blood vessels in the retina to suffer blockages. The blockages lead to leaks in the blood vessels which can cause permanent damage to the retina. In many instances a process called neovascularization occurs where new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina, which may also leak, resulting in further damage.

The retina is the light-sensitive tissue located at the back of the eye, which is a necessary component for proper vision. Damage to the retina can result in irreversible vision loss. While controlling diabetes reduces the likelihood of developing diabetic retinopathy, it does not eliminate the risk and consequently it is crucial to have an annual retinal exam.

Blood sugar levels that fluctuate periodically can also impact eyesight. Due to the fact that glucose levels are linked to your lens's ability to focus, this can result in blurry vision that changes with glucose levels.

Cataracts, or a clouding of the lens of the eye, can also develop in diabetics. While many people develop cataracts as they age, the likelihood of developing cataracts at a younger age is higher in diabetics.

A person with diabetes is two times more likely to develop glaucoma, an increase in pressure in the optic nerve leading to optic nerve damage and ultimately blindness.

The best way to prevent conditions related to diabetes is for diabetics to control their blood sugar, 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 imperative to have regular annual retinal exams with an optometrist to find any damage as early as possible. While often vision loss caused by any of these conditions is irreparable, further damage can be prevented by early detection.