Diabetic Eye Conditions: Symptoms, Treatment, and Lifestyle Management

November is National Diabetes Month—it’s the perfect time to think about the way diabetes affects the eyes. Many people aren’t aware that this disease can have a negative impact on eye health and, ultimately, a person’s lifestyle. But the fact is that there are several common eye conditions related to diabetes. Understanding the signs and symptoms associated with these conditions is important. That way, you can take steps for yourself or a loved one to treat or manage the problem.  

Have you or someone you know experienced visual impairment because of a diabetes-related condition? VIA may be able to help. We strive to guide patients through vision loss in order to give them back their confidence and independence, ultimately helping them to enjoy a high quality of life even with vision loss.  

At VIA, we are not medical doctors, but rehabilitation experts. If you’re experiencing visual impairment or have a loved one who is, contact your eye care provider or ophthalmologist. For help dealing with vision loss and managing it in your daily life, get in touch with the vision rehabilitation experts at VIA. 

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common diabetic eye conditions, including the symptoms and treatment protocols. Then, we’ll discuss living with these conditions and managing your vision loss to maintain a great quality of life. 

Common Diabetic Eye Conditions 

Did you know that diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults between the ages of 20 and 74? High blood sugar levels can have negative effects all around the body, and the eyes are no exception. Four common eye conditions associated with diabetes are diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, cataracts, and glaucoma. Let’s examine each of these in more detail.  

Diabetic retinopathy 

The retina is the lining in the back of your eye that turns light into images. Diabetic retinopathy involves changes in the blood vessels of the retina—swelling, leaking, or bleeding—because of prolonged high blood sugar. For people with diabetes, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of vision loss. This condition is also the leading cause of blindness across all adults in the United States.  

Symptoms 

The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include:  

  • Blurry vision 
  • Loss of central vision 
  • Inability to see colors 
  • Floaters 
  • Black areas in the vision 

One of the frightening things about diabetic retinopathy is that symptoms might not appear until the condition has become serious. You can have diabetic retinopathy for some time before any symptoms arise. This is one of the reasons that regular eye checkups at your ophthalmologist’s office are so important, especially if you’re diabetic.  

Treatment 

Treatment for diabetic retinopathy might take several forms. Something called Anti-VEGF injection therapy is one choice; it involves drugs that block the protein that causes abnormal growth of blood vessels in the eye. Corticosteroids are also sometimes used to treat diabetic retinopathy, although they can increase the chances of glaucoma and cataracts. Laser surgery is another option; laser burns essentially cauterize leaky blood vessels in the eye or treat spots where the retina has detached from the macula.  

Nearly half of all U.S. adults with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy, and only about half of that portion know that they have it. If you have partial or full vision loss because of diabetic retinopathy, turn to the vision rehabilitation experts at VIA for help.  

Diabetic macular edema 

Closely related to diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema often occurs because of diabetic retinopathy and is another serious eye condition common in people with diabetes. It’s characterized by tiny bulges, known as microaneurysms, protruding from the walls of the blood vessels in the eye, resulting in fluid or blood leaking into the retina. This leads to swelling (edema) in the macula, or the central part of the retina.  

Symptoms 

The symptoms of diabetic macular edema are similar to diabetic retinopathy. They include: 

  • Blurry or wavy vision 
  • Seeing colors as washed out or faded 
  • Floaters 
  • Double vision 

Treatment 

The treatment for diabetic macular edema also mirrors that of diabetic retinopathy. Injectable medications including anti-VEGF medicine and steroids as well as laser therapy are the most common treatment options. 

When treatment is started early and a diabetic patient manages their blood sugar properly, diabetic macular edema can be successfully managed, just like diabetic retinopathy. But if you or a loved one have already suffered from partial or full vision loss, you might need help adjusting to the new normal. The vision loss rehabilitation experts at VIA can help—contact us today. 

Cataracts 

Cataracts is one of the most common eye issues in general, and it’s common among people with diabetes. A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye. The connection between diabetes and cataracts isn’t yet fully understood, but it’s clear that those with diabetes have a much greater chance of developing cataracts—a 60% greater risk, in fact.  

Symptoms 

The symptoms of cataracts include: 

  • Blurred vision 
  • Clouded vision 
  • Spots in your vision 
  • Yellowing of your vision 
  • Sensitivity to bright lights 

Treatment 

Surgery is the common treatment for cataracts. Cataract surgery involves removing the lens of the eye and replacing it with an artificial one. This treatment is widely recommended and is quite common, and it’s considered very safe.  

Not every diabetes patient with cataracts is a candidate for cataract surgery, however. People with diabetes are at a higher risk for complications from the surgery. If you or someone you know has partial or full vision loss because of cataracts and the surgery can’t be performed, you might need help adjusting to life with vision loss. That’s where VIA comes in—contact us to learn more about our vision loss rehabilitation program.  

Glaucoma 

Glaucoma involves an excess amount of fluid pressing on the optical nerve at the back of the eye. This happens when the eye’s drainage system becomes blocked, trapping fluid in the eye and putting pressure on the eye itself as well as the optical nerve. People with diabetes are at an increased risk of glaucoma, and especially those with diabetic retinopathy. That’s because the abnormal blood vessel growth caused by diabetic retinopathy can block the natural drainage of the eye.  

Symptoms 

In the early stages of glaucoma, there are little to no symptoms. Many people with glaucoma aren’t aware they have it at all. When symptoms do appear, they might include: 

  • Gradual vision loss 
  • The appearance of halos or bright rings around lights 
  • Tunnel vision 

If glaucoma is left untreated, it can lead to partial vision loss or complete blindness. 

Treatment 

Prescription eye drops are usually the first treatment option for glaucoma. These medicated eye drops help to relieve the pressure in the eye. If eye drops don’t work, surgery is the next option. Glaucoma surgery opens the clogged channels in the eye, or drainage tubes or stents are inserted to drain the excess fluid in the eye. 

As is the case with cataracts patients, not everyone with glaucoma is a candidate for surgery, especially diabetic patients. If you or a loved one is adjusting to life with partial or complete vision loss because of glaucoma, VIA can help with the transition. Call us to learn more about what we can offer at our low vision clinic. 

Living With Diabetic Eye Conditions 

Diabetic patients must take steps to control their blood sugar levels so that eye conditions don’t get any worse. This is achieved through insulin administration and a healthy lifestyle that includes a nutritious diet and regular exercise. Your physician as well as your eye care professional or ophthalmologist will guide you in this process.   

For those with partial vision loss, low-vision aids like telescopic glasses, magnifying glasses, reading prisms, and more can be used. Non-optical aids like braille readers, high-contrast clocks and watches, and text-reading software are other options. But steps like these are only scratching the surface—you or your loved one may need help from vision loss rehabilitation professionals.  

Trust VIA for Vision Rehabilitation 

Vision loss rehabilitation covers a wide range of professional services that help patients to adjust to life with vision loss. If you or a loved one have vision loss because of diabetic eye conditions like those described above, or for any other reason, VIA is here for you. VIA has provided vision rehabilitation services to the Western New York community for more than 100 years.  

If you’re diabetic and are experiencing eye health issues, your eye doctor or physician are the first people you should turn to for treatment. If you’re adjusting to permanent or total vision loss after treatment, reach out to VIA. Vision loss rehabilitation can help you adjust to life with vision loss and ultimately help you keep a high quality of life. 

VIA offers comprehensive vision loss rehabilitation services to people of all ages. We make it our mission to maximize patients’ functional vision and improve their safety, independence, and quality of life in whatever ways we can. If you’re suffering from visual impairment or know someone who is, get in touch with the experts at VIA.  

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