Whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, or are a caregiver for someone with diabetes, you know managing the condition requires diligence. Eating well and exercising are a priority, but there are other aspects of your health that are important too – like your eyesight.
Approximately 34.2 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. People with diabetes are at an increased risk of developing eye problems, including diabetic retinopathy (DR) and a more serious condition called diabetic macular edema (DME). These can cause vision loss if left untreated.
Here are five key facts to know about diabetes and vision loss from the eye health experts at Genentech:
1. Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness
Did you know that diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults age 20-74? High blood sugar damages blood vessels in the retina in the back of the eye. Out-of-control blood sugar can lead to DME, which in turn can cause vision loss.
2. DME progresses in stages
“Macular” refers to the macula, which is the central portion of the retina and the part of the eye responsible for sharp central vision. “Edema” means swelling of tissues from fluid. DME results when damaged blood vessels leak fluid and cause swelling, which blurs vision.
People with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes are at risk for diabetic eye disease. The risk of developing DME is closely associated with the length of time a patient has lived with diabetes and the severity of DR they are experiencing. If DR worsens, the eye may begin to form new, abnormal blood vessels over the retina, which can break easily and bleed, causing severe vision loss and even blindness. DME can occur at any stage of DR, though it is more likely to occur as DR progresses. Poor control of blood sugar also increases the risk of developing DME.
3. Diabetic eye disease may not have symptoms
DME doesn’t appear overnight. You may have subtle or no symptoms, especially early on.
However, it’s important to note changes in your vision and speak with your doctor immediately if you notice anything different. DME can cause blurry vision, color fading, floaters (small specks, dots, circles, lines or cobwebs in your field of vision) and double vision.
To diagnose DME, a physician will perform a comprehensive eye exam that includes a visual acuity test, which determines the smallest letters you can read on a chart; a dilated eye exam in which drops are placed in your eyes to widen the pupils in order to check for signs of the disease; imaging tests; and a pressure check inside your eye.
4. Vision complications from diabetes are more common than you may realize
In the United States, DR impacts nearly 7.8 million people and DME impacts 750,000 people. Many people struggle to manage diabetes and its complications, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. And while many people do experience diabetic eye disease, there are treatment options available to help improve or maintain your eyesight.
5. There are prevention and treatment options
If you have diabetes, one of the best things you can do for your eyes is get regular exams and tell your healthcare provider or eye doctor if you have changes to your vision. Manage blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol through diet, exercise and prescribed medications, if needed. There are treatment options to slow or stop vision loss if you are diagnosed with diabetic eye disease, and if you are already being treated with medication for diabetic eye disease, keep it up so you can maintain your sight!
Taking care of your eyes doesn’t just mean holding onto your independence. It means getting to witness all the things that make life beautiful. Thanks to new innovations in eye care and treatment, there’s more hope than ever before.
To learn more about DME, visit Gene.com.