Every person with diabetes is at risk of going blind. Diabetes is one of the leading causes of blindness in the world. The increasing number of people with diabetes has caused diabetic blindness to be a problem worldwide. According to an article by The International Diabetes Federation, there are currently 145 million people with diabetic retinopathy and 45 million people with sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy. They estimate these numbers to exceed 224 million and 70 million by 2040.1 This article will discuss the different complications that can lead to diabetic blindness, symptoms, and treatment/prevention.
Diabetes & Blindness Categories:
There are three leading causes of diabetes blindness: Diabetic retinopathy, Glaucoma, and Cataracts.2
Diabetic retinopathy is a disease that affects the retina. The retina is the thin layer that lines the back of your eye and captures visual information to send to your brain. Because diabetes is a disease that develops when your body’s blood sugar level is too high, diabetes retinopathy is directly correlated to not taking care of your diabetes and experiencing long-term high blood sugar levels. Over time, this leads to the weakening of your blood cells. When this happens, blood and other fluids leak into your retina. As the diabetic retinopathy worsens, your body will create new blood vessels as a substitute. However, these vessels are weak and break very easily, leaking more blood and fluid into your retina, making it unable to capture images for your brain, thus causing blindness.2 An estimated 1 in 29 people with diabetes have diabetic retinopathy.3
Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy may not have symptoms initially, but early detection can help protect your vision. People have reported:
- Slowly worsening vision
- Shapes floating in your field of vision (floaters)
- Blurred or patchy vision
- Eye pain or redness
- Difficulty seeing in the dark4
Although these signs do not necessarily mean that you have diabetic retinopathy, it’s recommended to have regular eye exams. The earlier the disease is found, the easier it is to treat.
Although everyone with diabetes is at risk of going blind, there are some steps you can take to protect your vision:
- Keep your blood sugar levels in the target range
- Control your blood pressure
- Get regular eye exams
There’s no cure for diabetic retinopathy. But treatment often works to prevent, delay, or reduce vision loss. Treatment options include:
- Laser treatment: Works to prevent vision loss if done early.
- Anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) or anti-inflammatory medicine: These injections can help shrink new blood vessels when diabetic retinopathy is advanced.
- Surgical removal of the vitreous gel: This may help improve vision if the retina hasn’t been severely damaged.2
Glaucoma is an eye disease that can damage the optic nerve. An optic nerve is a group of nerves connecting the eye to the brain. When a person has glaucoma, fluid builds up in the front part of their eye. This extra fluid puts pressure on the eye, slowly damaging the optic nerve, causing vision loss and blindness if not treated early. Diabetes doubles the chances of developing the disease.5 An estimated 3 million Americans have glaucoma. It is the second leading cause of blindness after cataracts.6
There are two primary types of glaucoma, open-angle glaucoma, which is also connected to diabetes, and closed-angle glaucoma.5
Symptoms of Glaucoma:
Many people with open-angle glaucoma (the type related to diabetes) have no noticeable symptoms early on. People with closed-angle glaucoma have more severe symptoms that tend to appear suddenly. People report symptoms of:
- Eye pain or pressure
- Rainbow-colored halos around lights
- Low vision, blurred vision, narrowed vision (tunnel vision), or blind spots
- Nausea and vomiting
- Red eyes
Like diabetic retinopathy, these symptoms do not necessarily reflect glaucoma, so it’s essential to have routine eye exams. In addition, glaucoma damage is irreversible, so early detection and treatment are crucial to prevent blindness.5
Cataracts describe a clouding in the eye’s lens that blurs your vision.2 Like diabetic retinopathy, it happens because of prolonged high blood sugar, which can damage the blood vessels in your eye. People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop cataracts as those without diabetes. While it is more common in the aging population, it can also happen at a much earlier age.
Symptoms of Cataracts:
Because cataracts develop very slowly, people may not notice any symptoms at first. The main symptoms of a cataract include:
- Cloudy or blurred vision
- Spots or floaters in a person’s vision
- Sensitivity to glare from lights
- Seeing a halo of light around lights7
There is no way to prevent cataracts from forming, but people with diabetes may lower their risk by:
- Managing blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol
- Quitting smoking if a smoker
- Maintaining a balanced diet
- Regular exercise
- Surgery is the only treatment for cataracts.7
Treasure Valley Metabolic Medicine: The Diabetes Experts
If you have diabetes, you are at risk of vision loss. It’s essential to manage your blood sugar levels and get regular eye exams from your doctor to ensure your vision is not at risk.
At Treasure Valley Metabolic Medicine, our programs are focused on producing long-term results and optimal outcomes. We are dedicated to supporting diabetes care. Our patients receive personalized medication, exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle techniques to achieve their long-term diabetes care.
- International Diabetes Federation. (2019, October 23). World Sight Day 2019. International Diabetes Federation – Home. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://idf.org/our-activities/care-prevention/eye-health/world-sight-day-2019.html
- How diabetes causes blindness. Cigna. (2022, April 13). Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://www.cigna.com/individuals-families/health-wellness/hw/how-diabetes-causes-blindness-uq1250abc
- The Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group*. (2004, April 1). The prevalence of diabetic retinopathy among adults in the United States. Archives of Ophthalmology. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaophthalmology/fullarticle/416212#:~:text=The%20prevalence%20of%20diabetic%20retinopathy%20in%20the%20United%20States%20is,retinopathy%2C%201%20in%20132%20persons.
- NHS. (2021, December 16). Diabetic retinopathy. NHS choices. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/diabetic-retinopathy/#:~:text=gradually%20worsening%20vision,blurred%20or%20patchy%20vision
- Hersh, E. (2020, October 26). Glaucoma and diabetes: Is there a connection? Healthline. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/glaucoma-and-diabetes#glaucoma
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, November 24). Don’t let glaucoma steal your sight! Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/resources/features/glaucoma-awareness.html#:~:text=Glaucoma%20is%20a%20group%20of,results%20in%20increased%20eye%20pressure
- Curious about cataracts? Curious About Cataracts? | ADA. (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/eye-health/understand-eye-conditions/curious-about-cataracts#:~:text=What%20Causes%20Cataracts,accelerate%20the%20development%20of%20cataracts.