How Can Diabetes Cause Low Vision?

Diabetes is a prevalent condition that impacts the lives of nearly 3 million Americans. As diabetes affects the blood, it can have significant implications for various parts of the body, including the eyes. 

The good news is that there are various viable treatments that can delay and minimize the effect on your eye health and give you clear vision for many years to come, despite receiving a diabetes diagnosis.

Let’s explore all the ways diabetes might affect the eyes and what steps you can take to ensure your vision remains clear.

If you have recently been diagnosed with diabetes, you should book an appointment with your optometrist so that they can assess the quality of your vision and determine how to keep your eyes and vision healthy. 

But First, What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition that disrupts blood sugar regulation in the body. When there is too much sugar in the blood, a hormone called insulin is released to help convert the sugar into energy. Diabetes occurs when your body either can’t produce enough insulin or can’t use what it has effectively. Consequently, high levels of sugar remain in the bloodstream, posing a risk of damage to different organs, including the eyes.

How Can Diabetes Lead to Eye Disease?

Diabetic Retinopathy

The retina, located at the back of the eye, plays a crucial role in converting light into electrical signals that the brain then interprets as images. To function properly, the retina relies on consistent blood flow. 

However, high blood sugar levels can lead to the swelling and leakage of blood vessels that supply the eye. Initially, the impact on vision may be subtle and undetectable, which is why regular eye exams are vital for the early detection of this condition. Diabetic retinopathy affects approximately 22% of people with diabetes, making it a leading cause of vision loss in adults. 

Glaucoma

Glaucoma refers to a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. While glaucoma can affect anyone, people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop the condition. Some symptoms of glaucoma include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Blurred peripheral vision
  • Eye pain
  • Poor night vision
  • Frequent headaches

Cataracts

Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye becomes clouded, thus obscuring vision. While cataracts can also affect anyone, the risk is greater for those with diabetes. 

Symptoms include dimmed or blurred vision due to the clouded lens. Thankfully, cataracts are highly treatable. Cataract surgery is widely regarded as a safe and effective procedure.

Diabetic Macular Edema

Diabetic macular edema (DME) is another leading cause of low vision. It occurs when fluids accumulate on the retina, leading to swelling and blurred vision. DME has the potential to cause significant vision loss, underscoring the importance of regular eye exams to detect and manage this condition in its early stages.

Treatment Options

While treatments vary for each condition, there are some things you can do to combat the risk for all of the above-mentioned conditions and keep low vision at bay. The most important step you can take — not just for your eye health but diabetes in general — is to eat healthily and keep active. By keeping your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels within your target ranges, you can limit the effect of diabetes on your entire body.

Physical exercise has many benefits and is recommended by the CDC as one of the ways to help manage your diabetes and protect your eyes.

For eye health specifically, booking an appointment with an eye doctor to get an eye exam is a good idea. This will allow your optometrist to spot any problems with your visual health and work with you to start low vision treatment as soon as required. Your optometrist will also likely recommend how often you should schedule eye exams to stay on top of your eye health.

While there are many ways that diabetes can affect your vision, a proactive response by you and your low vision optometrist can help you manage the condition and get the jump on issues before they become problematic. This will help protect against low vision in the long run and have you enjoying clear vision for years to come.

In the event of vision loss due to diabetes, your low vision specialist can offer you several low vision aids and devices to keep you functioning independently as long as possible. Many individuals with diabetes-related vision loss continue to live fulfilling and enjoyable lives despite having low vision. 

If you have recently been diagnosed with diabetes or suspect something is wrong with your vision, find a low vision specialist here and book an appointment to take charge of your eye health.