World Diabetes Day 2019: The Link Between Diabetes and Eyes

4.7 million people are currently living with diabetes in the UK – 415 million globally – with someone being newly diagnosed every two minutes. 

Diabetes is caused when your body can’t produce enough quality insulin to adequately process glucose sugars in your blood.  Levels of sugar build up and fail to reach cells where it can be converted into energy to fuel your body. If left uncontrolled, this excess can have serious consequences, including kidney failure, amputation and strokes. 

But did you know the diabetes can also seriously impact your vision? 

This month we marked World Diabetes Day 2019 by raising awareness of how both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can result in vision problems and accelerate the onset of common eye diseases, including diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, glaucoma and cataracts. If left untreated, these conditions can result in severe vision loss and even blindness. 

Diabetic eye diseases are so dangerous because there are often no symptoms until it is too late. If the conditions are left undetected you may experience blurred vision, dark patches in your field of view, worsening colour perception, increased floaters or flashes of light. 

In fact, there is only one way to identify the onset and treat early symptoms before lasting damage is done to your vision – an annual comprehensive eye examination. 

So, what are the most common diabetic eye problems? 

  • Diabetic Retinopathy – Diabetic retinopathy is one of the leading causes of sight loss in the UK, and 1 in 3 diabetes sufferers over 40 already have some symptoms. When your blood sugar is too high, fluid levels can change and cause your eye tissue to swell, temporarily interfering with focus and resulting in blurry vision. However, if your blood glucose remains high over a longer period of time, the swelling can start to damage blood vessels inside your eye and harm your retina. This is known as diabetic retinopathy.  In early non-proliferative stages of the disease, the blood vessels weaken, swell or leak into the retina. But as symptoms worsen, new blood vessels grow and proliferate on the retina’s surface, creating dangerously high ocular pressure and leading to serious vision problems.  If discovered and treated early, the risk of blindness can be reduced by 95%. 
  • Diabetic Macular Edema – Diabetic macular edema is most often a further complication of unchecked diabetic retinopathy.  The condition can cause your macula – the central part of your retina – to swell.  If left untreated, this swelling can damage the sharp vision at the centre of your eyes leading to vision loss or even blindness. 
  • Cataracts – As we age, the clear lenses in our eyes become cloudier – resulting in cataracts. Diabetes sufferers are more likely to develop cataracts at an earlier age, perhaps due to high blood sugar levels causing deposits to build up in your lenses. 
  • Glaucoma – Diabetes doubles your chances of developing glaucoma, a disease that damages the optic nerve that connects the eye to the brain, leading to vision loss and blindness. 

In the UK, over 1,700 diabetes sufferers have their sight seriously affected every year, so to protect your vision, it is essential to manage your blood sugar levels, quit smoking and attend your annual comprehensive eye examinations. 

During this appointment, our highly qualified optometrist will assess your retinal health, measure your intraocular pressure and check your eyesight prescription amongst other tests. If we do identify any symptoms of diabetic eye disease, we can then advise you about the next steps to take, and refer you to a specialist to discuss a treatment plan, including but not limited to highly specialised medication to block blood vessel growth in your eyes, laser treatment to treat leaks and surgery.   

 

Diabetes and eyes are intrinsically linked. If you have diabetes, you should book a comprehensive eye examination at least once a year. Get started by booking your appointment online or by giving us a call on 020 7628 0330 to check if you are due for yours.