Each year, more than 40,000 people lose their sight to diabetes, and hundreds of thousands more suffer some degree of visual impairment. Ultimately, more than half of the 15 million people with diabetes will have some degree of diabetic eye disease: glaucoma, cataracts and most commonly diabetic retinopathy. The longer you have diabetes, the greater your chances of developing diabetic eye disease.
What are the symptoms?
Often there are no symptoms. Your vision may not noticeably change until the disease is in an advanced state. There is no pain and diabetic retinopathy has no symptoms until the late stages. Early detection and treatment of diabetic eye disease is the best way to prevent loss of vision. That’s why the National Eye Institute, the American Diabetes Association and the American Academy of Optometry urge every person with diabetes to have a dilated eye exam every year. In most cases, early detection through an exam by an eye doctor can prevent blindness.
You should contact your eye doctor immediately if you experience any of the following:
- Any change in vision
- The sudden appearance of floaters, “strings” or “cobwebs” in the vision of either eye
- Double vision • eye pain, halos around lights, glare or difficulty reading
What tests are needed?
The most important test is a comprehensive eye examination by a qualified eye doctor, including drops to dilate the pupils. Everyone with diabetes needs a dilated exam every year, even if your vision seems fine.
The doctor may perform a fluorescein angiogram in the office to evaluate the blood circulation in the retina looking for leakage, abnormal blood vessels, or other abnormalities. An intravenous dye injection is given in the back of the hand, and photographs taken of the retina over several minutes. Visual field examination tests the peripheral vision in each eye. Other specialized tests may be peformed as needed.
Is there any treatment?
Absolutely. Some diabetic eye disease requires no treatment at all, other cases may need simple eye drops. In more advanced cases, surgery may be recommended to help recover lost vision. Most importantly, diabetic blindness is usually preventable if diagnosis and treatment are begun early enough.
Does my bood surgar level really matter? How about blood pressure?
Again, absolutely. Good blood sugar control (no higher than 140 at all times) preserves eyesight, kidney function, and allows a longer, healthier life. Similarly, reducing blood pressure and cholesterol can be a big help. Watch your diet, follow your glucose levels and see your medical doctor regularly. You may take a blood test called Hemoblobin A1c, which reveals the average glucose over the preceding 3 months and is a better measure of overall control.
Controlling blood sugar is the best way to stay healthy. Good control can prevent many complications of diabetes.
How can I protect my vision?
In addition to tight control of your blood sugar, you should have your eyes examined regularly, at least once a year with dilated pupils, by a eye doctor. Even before you notice a change in your vision, such an examination can detect problems that threaten your vision. Early detection and timely treatment is the best way to control diabetic eye disease. If you haven’t had your eyes examined within the last year, your sight is at risk.
When was your last dilated eye exam?
If it’s been more than a year since your last comprehensive exam or if your eyesight has recently changed, your eyesight could be at risk.