Preventative Diabetic Eye Care
by Johan Van Zyl Optometrists
People with diabetes are 10 to 20 times
more likely to go blind than someone
without the condition, due to diabetic
retinopathy. However, if this condition is
detected early through an eye examination
and treated, blindness can be prevented in
90% of cases.
The International Diabetes
Federation (IDF) has warned
that at least one in 10 adults
could have diabetes by 2030.
What are diabetes problems?
Too much glucose in the blood for a long time can cause diabetes problems. This
high blood glucose, also called blood sugar, can damage many parts of the body,
such as the heart, blood vessels, eyes, and kidneys. Heart and blood vessel disease
can lead to heart attacks and strokes. You can do a lot to prevent or slow down
This booklet is about eye problems caused by diabetes. You will learn the things you
can do each day and during each year to stay healthy and prevent diabetes
High blood glucose can cause eye problems.
What should I do each day to stay healthy with diabetes?
Follow the healthy eating plan that you and your doctor or dietitian have worked out.
Be active a total of 30 minutes most days. Ask your doctor what activities are best for you.
Take your medicines as directed.
Check your blood glucose every day. Each time you check your blood glucose, write the number in your record book.
Check your feet every day for cuts, blisters, sores, swelling, redness, or sore toenails.
Brush and floss your teeth every day.
Control your blood pressure and cholesterol.
What can I do to prevent diabetes eye problems?
You can do a lot to prevent diabetes eye problems.
- Keep your blood glucose and blood pressure as close to normal as you can.
- Have an eye care professional examine your eyes once a year. Have this
exam even if your vision is OK. The eye care professional will use drops to
make the black part of your eyes—pupils—bigger. This process is called
dilating your pupil, which allows the eye care professional to see the back of
your eye. Finding eye problems early and getting treatment right away will help
prevent more serious problems later on.
Ask your eye care professional to check for signs of cataracts and glaucoma.
- If you are planning to get pregnant soon, ask your doctor if you should have an eye exam.
- If you are pregnant and have diabetes, see an eye care professional during your first 3 months of pregnancy.
- Don’t smoke.
How can diabetes hurt my eyes?
High blood glucose and high blood pressure from diabetes can hurt four parts of your eye:
- Retina. The retina is the lining at the back of the eye. The retina’s job is to sense light coming into the eye.
- Vitreous. The vitreous is a jelly-like fluid that fills the back of the eye.
- Lens. The lens is at the front of the eye. The lens focuses light on the retina.
- Optic nerve. The optic nerve is the eye’s main nerve to the brain.
A side view of the eye.
How can diabetes hurt the retinas of my eyes?
Retina damage happens slowly. Your retinas have tiny blood vessels that are easy to
damage. Having high blood glucose and high blood pressure for a long time can
damage these tiny blood vessels.
First, these tiny blood vessels swell and weaken. Some blood vessels then become
clogged and do not let enough blood through. At first, you might not have any loss of
sight from these changes. Have a dilated eye exam once a year even if your sight
seems fine.One of your eyes may be damaged more than the other. Or both eyes
may have the same amount of damage.
Diabetic retinopathy is the medical term for the most common diabetes eye problem.
What happens as diabetes retina problems get worse?
As diabetes retina problems get worse, new blood vessels grow. These new blood
vessels are weak. They break easily and leak blood into the vitreous of your eye. The
leaking blood keeps light from reaching the retina. You may see floating spots or
almost total darkness. Sometimes the blood will clear out by itself. But you might
need surgery to remove it.
Over the years, the swollen and weak blood vessels can
form scar tissue and pull the retina away from the back of the eye. If the retina
becomes detached, you may see floating spots or flashing lights. You may feel as if a
curtain has been pulled over part of what you are looking at. A detached retina can
cause loss of sight or blindness if you don’t take care of it right away.