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Diabetic Eye Disease

As Blindness Awareness Month is coming to an end, we are focusing on the effect that diabetes has on our eyesight. Diabetes is a disease that can negatively affect health in many ways, especially eyesight.

Diabetes brings an increased risk of developing several different eye diseases. These are grouped under the umbrella term “diabetic eye disease,” including cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic macular edema (DME), and diabetic retinopathy. With all these combined, Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness worldwide and the most common cause of blindness in pre-retirement age Americans.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes occurs when your body cannot make or effectively use its own insulin, a hormone made by special cells in the pancreas called islets (eye-lets). Insulin serves as a “key” to open your cells, to allow the sugar (glucose) from the food you eat to enter. Then, your body uses that glucose for energy. Sugar feeds harmful bacteria, so high blood sugar is hard on blood vessels and raises infection risk. Too much glucose in the blood for a long time can damage many parts of the body, including the eyes.

If you have Diabetes, you probably already know that you’re at risk for vision problems. You know that controlling your blood sugar and monitoring your A1C is vital for your overall health. Here are a few facts about Diabetes and your eye health from the American Academy of Ophthalmology that you might not know:

People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop cataracts than other adults.

Cataracts also develop at a younger age and progress faster in adults with diabetes than in people without it. High blood sugar levels lead to a build-up of cells and proteins in the eye’s lens, making it cloudy. Maintaining strict control of blood glucose levels may help delay the onset of cataracts.

Women with diabetes who become pregnant are at high risk for diabetic retinopathy and vision loss.

Pregnant women should have an eye exam early in their pregnancy. However, women who develop diabetes during pregnancy (called gestational diabetes) are generally not at risk for developing retinopathy, while they are pregnant.

Diabetes can cause double vision.

When Diabetes causes enough damage to the body’s circulation, it can lead to paralysis of the muscles that move the eyes. If one or more muscles in one eye don’t work properly, the eyes don’t work together. The brain receives two images instead of one, causing double vision or diplopia. The double vision usually lasts a few days to a few weeks. Keeping blood sugar controlled and taking diabetes medicine as prescribed can help resolve this vision problem.

People with diabetes may be more likely to get eye infections.

When Diabetes is not controlled properly, it can affect the body’s immune system, lowering your ability to fight infection. That can lead to conjunctivitis (pink eye) and other eye infections. To prevent eye infections, keep your blood sugar levels in good control, wash your hands often, and don’t touch your eyes.

Protect Your Sight with Regular Eye Exams

Your two best resources for protecting your sight from the effects of Diabetes are you and your eye doctor, which makes a great team for your eye health. If you can keep your blood sugar as close to normal as possible, you will reduce your risk levels for these eye diseases.

6 Out of 10 People with Diabetes Skip a Sight-Saving Exam

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