People with diabetes can avoid major eye problems

High blood sugar levels that are the hallmark of diabetes can also have an effect on the eyes. But, there are steps that can be taken to avoid serious eye problems.

Diabetes is a blood sugar problem.  According to Michigan State University Extension, blood vessel damage caused by diabetes can also become a problem for our eyes.

People with diabetes are 40 percent more likely to suffer from glaucoma and 60 percent more likely to develop cataracts than those without diabetes.  Precautions can be taken to help prevent or treat these problems.

Glaucoma happens when pressure builds up in the eyes.  The pressure squeezes the blood vessels that carry blood to the retina and optic nerve.  Vision is gradually lost because of this damage. 

There are several treatments for glaucoma.  Prescription medication is sometimes used to reduce the eye pressure.  On occasion surgery is necessary to restore better vision.

A cataract occurs when the normally clear lens of the eye becomes cloudy, blocking light and impairing vision. People with diabetes tend to get cataracts at an earlier age. Cataracts also progress faster.

People with mild cataracts may be told they need to use glare-control glasses or wear sunglasses more frequently. For cataracts that more significantly affect vision surgery is done, removing the lens of the eye.  Sometimes an implant lens is inserted.

Diabetic retinopathy is a general term for all disorders of the retina caused by having diabetes.  Strides have been made in recent years to treat people with diabetic retinopathy.  These include using special lasers, surgery or medication taken orally or injected into the eye.

There are risk factors for developing retinopathy, which include poor blood sugar control, poor blood pressure control, length of time one has had diabetes and genetics.

People with diabetes can reduce their risk of developing eye conditions or keep the conditions from getting worse, according to MSU Extension educators.  Here’s how:

Keep blood sugar levels under control.  In one research study people who kept their blood sugar close to normal got retinopathy four times less than people who didn’t.  In people who already had retinopathy, the disease progressed in people with near-normal blood sugar levels only half as often.

Get high blood pressure under control.  Elevated blood pressure can make eye problems worse.

People who smoke should quit.  Smoking further damages blood vessels.

The retina can be damaged before any change in vision is noticed.  So people with diabetes should see an eye care professional at least once a year for a dilated eye exam.  Just having a medical doctor look at our eyes or an optician fill an eyeglass prescription isn’t enough.  Only optometrists and ophthalmologists are trained to detect retinopathy. 

See an eye care professional soon if vision becomes blurry, if there is difficulty reading, if straight lines don’t look straight, if spots or floaters are in the line of vision, when seeing double, eyes significantly hurt or pressure is felt, or when things to the side can’t be seen.

For more information on diabetes and other chronic conditions, as well as other issues of interest to families, contact a MSU Extension educator in your area.

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