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Managing Diabetes Complications: Eye Disease

People with diabetes are at higher risk for several types of eye disease, including retinopathy, cataracts and glaucoma. Any of these diseases can lead to blindness over time. Early detection is the key to avoiding or lessening the risk of these diseases.

Retinopathy, the most common eye disease in people with diabetes, is caused by damage to the blood vessels of the retina that helps us to see. In some cases, these vessels may swell and leak fluid. This is called nonproliferative, or backgroundretinopathy.

As these areas heal, scarring occurs and abnormal new blood vessels may grow on the retina's surface, causing vision loss or blindness. This is called proliferative retinopathy and has consequences that are more serious. Unfortunately, some level of retinopathy is common, especially in people who have had diabetes for many years. But with good blood glucose control, it does not have to affect your vision.

Cataracts cloud the lens of the eye. They are often an early complication of diabetes. An annual eye exam can help detect cataracts before they become severe.

Glaucoma is an increased pressure in the fluid inside the eye. This can damage the optic nerve and lead to vision loss. Glaucoma is more common in people with type 2 diabetes.

Reducing Your Risk for Eye Disease

Taking a few important steps may greatly reduce your risk of diabetes-related eye disease.

  • Control your blood glucose. As average blood glucose levels rise, so does the risk of retinopathy. Typically, the better a person's blood glucose control, the slower the onset and progression of retinopathy. Proper control may also decrease your chance of getting cataracts.
  • Reduce your blood pressure. High blood pressure may increase the risk of retinopathy.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking raises your risk of cataracts and many other diabetes-related complications.
  • Get an annual dilated-eye exam. People with diabetic eye disease often have no symptoms or pain until a disease becomes advanced. But your healthcare professional can detect retinopathy before you have any vision problems. A dilated-eye exam lets your healthcare professional examine the blood vessels in the back of the eye. The earlier retinopathy is diagnosed, the better your chances for preventing further damage to your eyes.


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