According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 422 million people have diabetes. It’s also one of the leading causes of death in the Philippines after heart disease and cancer, totaling 37,265 in 2020.
Diabetes can occur at any point in life, and the number of people diagnosed continuously increases over the years. Now that it has become a common condition, it is crucial to know how to manage it properly to avoid developing any other medical risks.
Heart disease and diabetic nephropathy are common among patients with diabetes. However, it can also cause other health problems that can damage major senses, such as eyesight. For more information about diabetic eye disease, use the infographic below as your guide to diabetes.
Diabetes and Eye Health: What’s the Connection?1
Diabetes often leads to other medical conditions that can pose short- or long-term complications. Besides concerns regarding the heart and kidneys, many diabetic patients are also at risk of experiencing eye problems.
Diabetic retinopathy may cause the eyes to swell, leading to blurry vision to vision loss. Depending on the severity of the case, high blood pressure and blood sugar levels can also cause vessels around the eyes to leak fluids into the retina.
Medical experts state that anyone with diabetes risks developing complications affecting their eye health. More commonly, you are considered to have higher chances if you fit in any of the following categories:
- Have high blood glucose
- Have high blood pressure
- Have high blood cholesterol
- Are continuously smoking
- Are pregnant
5 Common Eye Problems from Diabetes1,2
Diabetes can affect your eyes as your blood sugar levels fluctuate. You may experience any of the following symptoms.
- Blurry vision
When your blood sugar rises, the small blood vessels in the back of your eyes can expand. This interrupts the blood supply needed by the retina, which causes blurred vision.
Cataracts are the cloudy smudge found in the lens of the cornea. When part of your lens is cloudy, the eye can’t focus as well as it should, which can pose serious issues in the long run.
Many people with diabetes can experience this when blood vessels are damaged from high blood pressure or blood sugar levels. This is more common among older patients, but people with diabetes can develop cataracts at a younger age.
Glaucoma slowly damages the optic nerve of the eye, which can cause vision loss and blindness. While there are typically no symptoms, many patients diagnosed with this experience gradual loss of vision over time.
- Macular edema
When blood pressure or blood sugar levels increase, the surrounding blood vessels can cause the macula to swell. The macula is the center of the retina that provides sharp central vision. If untreated, this eye disease can slowly destroy a patient’s vision, developing into partial or total blindness.
- Diabetic retinopathy
This complication typically stems from a damaged retina. The following are the different stages of diabetic retinopathy and its severity:
- Mild nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR)
During the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, the walls of the retinal blood vessels will begin to leak fluids and cause swelling. When left untreated, more vessels become blocked, leading to macular edema.
- Moderate NPDR
Patients with moderate NPDR can experience multiple microaneurysms, hard exudates, and venous beading. However, they occur less frequently compared to severe NPDR. If untreated, this may lead to diabetic macular edema or swelling in the retina’s macular region, resulting in vision loss.
- Severe NPDR
When the disease has progressed deeper in the retina, the patient can experience more hemorrhages and microaneurysms in two or more quadrants. Intraretinal microvascular abnormalities (IRMA) can also be found in at least one quadrant of the eye, which can spread later on.
- Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR)
PDR more commonly occurs near the optic disc, where new blood vessels attach themselves to the back surface of the vitreous. This is also known as neovascularization, where patients see dark floaters due to blood vessel leaks into the back of the eye.
Treatment Options for Diabetic Eye Disease3
It can be difficult to distinguish whether your eyesight is affected by diabetes or just age. As such, many patients only receive treatment when their symptoms have worsened. Below are common methods of treatment used for diabetic eye diseases.
Doctors recommend anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) medication such as ranibizumab, aflibercept, or bevacizumab. These are generally administered through intravitreal injection and block the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the eye. The medicine may also be used to prevent fluid leaks in cases of macular edema.
- Laser treatment
Laser treatment, also known as photocoagulation, creates small burns in the eye to treat leaking blood vessels. This is typically done in multiple sessions. It is also more likely to get your vision back than other treatment methods.
- Eye surgery
Different types of surgery may be offered depending on the severity of the eye disease. More commonly, eye surgery aims to remove the clear gel in the eye to remove signs of cataracts and damaged tissue. An artificial lens will then replace this to regain better vision.
Common eye surgeries for diabetic eye problems include vitrectomy, cataract surgery, and corneal transplant.
How to Prevent Diabetic Eye Disease4
Eye disease is a serious concern for patients diagnosed with diabetes. Consider practicing these methods to help mitigate risks and prevent your condition from escalating.
- Switch to a healthier lifestyle
Maintaining healthy lifestyle habits is one of the best ways to prevent diabetic eye disease and complications. You can do this by eating the right food, getting regular exercise, and taking enough rest daily.
- Manage your blood sugar levels
Closely monitor your blood sugar levels and maintain the recommended target range as much as possible. To do this, limit sugary food intake, prevent overeating, and drink enough water. This will help you avoid developing issues connected to diabetes, such as heart disease and vision loss.
- Control your blood pressure and cholesterol
Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol at healthy levels to lower the risk of vision problems. You can achieve this by practicing healthy habits and regulating alcohol consumption and smoking. Skipping fatty foods and dairy products can also make a big difference.
- Protect your eyes from ultraviolet (UV) damage
UV damage can cause several issues in the body, including skin cancer. However, the human eye is also highly sensitive to the sun’s harsh rays. When going outside, it is best to practice caution by wearing protective gear such as sunglasses or a hat. You can also use curtains and shades to minimize indirect exposure at home.
- Get a dilated eye exam
Diabetic eye complications often develop slowly, so most patients do not immediately realize they have it. Rather than waiting for symptoms to show up, it is best to get examined and consult with your doctor regularly. A once-a-year visit to your eye doctor is also recommended.
- Be aware of the risks
Knowing more about your condition and its risks can give you a better idea of how you can maintain your health properly. This will also help you cope with the situation better and lead ways on how you can maintain a normal lifestyle safely.
Looking Out for Diabetic Health
Diabetes has become one of the most common diseases in the world as cases continue to rise annually. While this is mainly known to cause problems in your blood sugar, it can also affect major organs in the body, such as your eyes. If untreated, you can experience complications such as vision loss or blindness.
With the multiple health risks that come with COVID-19 and diabetes, it pays to know how you can lower your chances of developing these problems. This can mean picking up healthier lifestyle habits and seeking regular advice from a medical professional.
You can also check out this Heart Disease Risk Checklist to learn if you are at high risk of developing coronary heart disease and should consult your doctor immediately.
Disclaimer: The information provided is for information purposes only and is not meant to be substituted for the advice given by a registered medical practitioner. This should not be used for diagnosing health problems or for self-medication. Boehringer Ingelheim shall not be responsible for any damages or losses arising out of access to or use of information provided.
Last medically reviewed on August 31, 2022