If you or a loved one live with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, you likely know how the condition can impact one’s overall health. But it’s also crucial to focus on how diabetes can affect your vision, according to the American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS). People with diabetes are at risk for complications that cause damage to the retina, the thin layer of light-sensitive nerve tissue that lines the back of the eye. This damage can lead to conditions such as diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema, which may result in vision loss and preventable blindness. The good news is, you can help protect your vision with regular dilated eye exams and expert care from retina specialists.
To help those living with diabetes understand how to care for their eye health and vision, retina specialists share important information and tips.
What you should know about diabetes and eye care
Diabetic retinopathy affects nearly 8 million Americans and occurs in over half the people diagnosed with diabetes. However, losing sight from diabetes is far from a foregone conclusion, especially with regular dilated eye exams, early diagnosis and treatment advances made possible by retina specialists.
“A few short decades ago, there were fewer tools available to diagnose and treat diabetic eye disease, but today the cutting-edge technologies and treatments retina specialists have access to means healthy vision is possible for the vast majority of people with diabetes,” said ASRS President Judy E. Kim, M.D., FASRS. “Incorporating healthy behaviors and getting regular dilated eye exams are among the simple steps that bolster healthy retinas and can lead to early diagnosis — a game changer when it comes to maintaining good vision with diabetes.”
ASRS and America’s retina specialists encourage everyone with diabetes to learn more about how the condition can impact sight, and steps they can take to protect their vision.
Risk factors for diabetic retinopathy
Anyone who has diabetes — including Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes — is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Additional factors that can increase your risk include:
- Disease duration — the longer you have diabetes, the greater the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy
- Poor control of blood sugar levels over time
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Kidney disease
- High cholesterol levels
Why regular dilated eye exams?
Regular dilated eye exams can reduce the risk of developing more severe complications from diabetic eye disease. Don’t wait for symptoms such as blurred or distorted vision, floaters or a shadow across your field of vision to appear to schedule an exam. Many people have conditions like diabetic retinopathy for a long time without symptoms. By the time symptoms appear, substantial damage may have already occurred.
During the exam, a retina specialist places drops in your eyes to make your pupils dilate (open widely) to allow a better view of the inside of your eye, especially the retinal tissue. The retina specialist looks for swelling in the retina, evidence of poor retina blood circulation, abnormal blood vessels or scar tissue on the retina.
Healthy habits to protect against diabetic eye disease
In addition to getting regular dilated eye exams, retina specialists encourage anyone at risk for diabetic eye disease to actively manage their health and protect vision by:
- Controlling blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Taking prescribed diabetes medications
- Quitting smoking
- Staying active
Embrace new treatments to protect vision
Thanks to ongoing research into how diabetes affects the eyes and how damage can be repaired, there are many approved treatments for diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema, including intravitreal injections, laser treatments and surgery. These procedures can be done in an office or hospital setting to prevent, treat or reverse damage from diabetes in your retina.
Partner with a retina specialist to safeguard your sight
If you experience symptoms of diabetic eye disease, see a retina specialist as soon as possible. Find a retina specialist near you at asrs.org/FindYourRetinaSpecialist.