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Diabetes Awareness Month: Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetes is a metabolic disease that causes increased levels of blood sugar either due to insufficient insulin production or because the body does not properly make use of the insulin produced (depending on the type of diabetes).

Diabetes can cause harm to your eyes in a number of ways. The damage is often worse when the disease is not being treated.

The most serious diabetic eye disease is one that can lead to destruction of the blood vessels that lead to the retina. This condition is one of the most common causes of blindness in adults and is called diabetic retinopathy.

Located at the back of the eye, the retina is essential for proper vision. Retinal damage can cause irreversible blindness. While controlling diabetes can reduce the chances of developing diabetic retinopathy, it does not eliminate the risk and consequently it is of utmost importance to have an annual retinal exam.

Daily variations in glucose levels, largely present in situations where diabetes is uncontrolled, can affect the eye's crystalline lens. Since blood sugar levels are associated with the ability of your lens to focus, this can result in blurred vision that varies with glucose levels.

Individuals with diabetes have a greater chance to develop cataracts, a condition in which the lens of the eye becomes clouded, which impacts vision. Cataracts are a common condition that comes with aging, but develops earlier in life in those with diabetes.

Glaucoma risk in individuals with diabetes is two times that of the normal population. Glaucoma is an increase in interoptic fluid pressure resulting in damage to the optic nerve and eventually blindness.

Controlling your diabetes is the best form of prevention for any of the diabetic eye diseases. In addition to controlling levels of glucose through diet and/or insulin, exercise and refraining from smoking can help. Since eye damage is often not noticeable until damage has occurred it is essential to schedule annual eye exams with an optometrist to find any possible problems at the earliest stages. Even though often any loss of sight that results from diabetic eye disease of any kind cannot be restored, early diagnosis and treatment can often prevent continuing damage and disease progression.