Diabetes affects millions of people across the globe, and its prevalence has risen significantly in recent decades. Data from the World Health Organization indicates that the number of people with diabetes nearly quadrupled between 1980 and 2014. Life with diabetes can be challenging, especially when the disease leads to additional complications like vision problems.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases notes that diabetes affects the eyes when blood glucose, or blood sugar, is too high. The damage to the eyes caused by diabetes occurs over time and can contribute to poor vision and, in certain instances, blindness. As their vision worsens, people with diabetes may be diagnosed with diabetic eye disease, which is an umbrella term used to describe a handful of conditions.
Which conditions are included under the umbrella of diabetic eye disease?
The NIDDK notes that diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, cataracts, and glaucoma are some of the conditions included under the umbrella of diabetic eye disease. Though they might all be referred to as diabetic eye disease, each condition is different.
Diabetic retinopathy affects the retina, which is the inner lining at the back of each eye. The retina senses light and turns it into signals that the brain then decodes. When a person has diabetic retinopathy, damaged blood vessels affect the retina. These blood vessels may weaken, bulge or leak into the retina during early stages of the disease. If the disease worsens, some blood vessels may close off and cause new blood vessels to grow on the surface of the retina. Serious vision problems can develop when this occurs.
Diabetic macular edema
The Mayo Clinic reports that diabetic macular edema occurs when tiny bulges protrude from the vessel walls and leak or ooze fluid and blood into the retina. This leakage causes swelling in the macula, which is the central part of the retina. This is a serious issue, as the NIDDK notes that the macula is necessary for reading, driving and seeing faces. Swelling in the macula can eventually contribute to partial vision loss or blindness.
Cataracts is not exclusive to people with diabetes. However, the NIDDK reports that the risk for cataracts is greater for people with diabetes than it is for people who are not diabetic. Cataracts are a condition marked by a clouding of the lens of the eye. According to the Cleveland Clinic, when a cataract clouds over the lens of the eye, the eye cannot focus light in the way it needs to. That can lead to blurry vision or vision loss. Cataracts can occur naturally as a person ages, but the Cleveland Clinic notes that cataracts can form more quickly in people with diabetes.
Glaucoma also is an umbrella term that refers to various conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve is a bundle of nerves that connects the eye to the brain. The NIDDK notes that diabetes doubles a person’s chances of having glaucoma. Glaucoma is often marked by gradual vision loss, and the National Institutes of Health note that as glaucoma worsens, individuals may begin to notice they can no longer see things off to the side. Early treatment of glaucoma can prevent further damage, though there’s no cure. If glaucoma is not treated early, it can lead to vision loss and blindness.
Diabetic eye disease can have serious consequences. Individuals with diabetes must be vigilant and address any issues with their vision immediately.
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