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Diabetes and Your Eyes - See Your Eye Doctor!

Diabetes and your Eyes Diabetes affects over 20 million people of all ages in the United States, approximately 7.8% of the population. When a person is diabetic, their body either does not produce or does not properly use the hormone insulin, which is used to regulate blood sugar. This can cause dangerous blood sugar fluctuations which can affect many organs of the body, including the eyes.

Having diabetes increases your risk of getting certain eye diseases, including cataracts, glaucoma, and retinopathy, which can cause blindness. It is extremely important to see your eye doctor regularly if you are diabetic. A simple eye examination can catch these diseases, allowing you to be treated before they rob you of your sight.

When the natural lens within the eye becomes cloudy, it is said to have a cataract. This is a common condition that can affect anyone, however diabetics are 60% more likely to develop this disorder than the general population. The condition also progresses faster in diabetics, and can strike at an earlier age.

The clouded lens blocks the passage of light through the eye, dulling vision. It may seem like you are viewing the world through a fogged-up window. Other symptoms include trouble reading, trouble seeing at night, difficulty reading facial expressions, halos, sensitivity to light, yellowing or fading of colors, and sensitivity to light and glare. Cataracts usually do not cause pain or other discomfort, unless they are extremely advanced (a condition called overripe or hypermature cataracts).

The only effective treatment for a cataract is surgical removal of the clouded lens. The lens is usually replaced with an artificial lens, called an intraocular lens (IOL), though in some cases no replacement used, and vision is corrected after surgery with eyeglasses alone.

Glaucoma is another common eye problem that diabetics are more likely to develop than other people. (40% more likely, to be exact.) Glaucoma refers to a group of eye diseases which cause damage to the optic nerve (the connection between the eyes and the brain). Nicknamed "the silent thief," glaucoma steals a person's sight gradually, without warning. It is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide.

The disorder is associated with increased pressure within the eye (intraocular pressure), however this is not the only cause of the disease. People can be diagnosed with glaucoma even with "normal" intraocular pressure, and people can live with "high" pressure for years with no adverse affects. High intraocular pressure is, however, a significant risk factor for the disease, so anyone with increased pressure should be monitored carefully for signs of glaucoma.

With the most common form of the disease, called open-angle glaucoma, there are usually no noticeable symptoms at first. Vision loss occurs very gradually, eventually leading to loss of peripheral vision and total blindness if left undreated.

A rarer form, called acute closed-angle glaucoma, comes on more suddenly and may include symptoms such as blurred vision, pain, nausea, vomiting, and rainbow halos seen around light sources. This condition must be treated immediately, as blindness can occur in just days.

Glaucoma may be treated with eye drops, oral medications, or surgery. Your eye doctor will decide which treatment is best for you based on your health and the specifics of your condition.

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition in which the blood vessels in the retinal (the light-sensitive lining in the back of the eye) become damaged. It is a complication of diabetes that may affect as many as 45% of people with diabetes, though many are unaware that they have the condition.

In the early stages, there are usually no symptoms, but as the disease progresses you may experience blurred vision, floating spots, dark streaks, a red film, trouble seeing at night, or other vision loss. If you are diabetic and have these or other vision problems, you should contact your eye doctor immediately, as retinopathy is a very serious condition which can lead to blindness if not properly treated. It is estimated that up to 25,000 diabetics are blinded by this disease each year in the United States.

High blood sugar is believed to cause this retinopathy, so it is important to keep your blood sugar levels as steady as possible. The longer you have had diabetes, the more likely you are to develop the disease. Other risk factors include high blood pressure (hypertension), smoking, high cholesterol, and pregnancy.

Treatment will depend on the type of retinopathy you have. If you have nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, you will need to be monitored carefully, but ay not require any other immediate treatment. If, on the other hand, you have proliferative retinopathy, you will likely need surgical treatment as soon as possible. (This is also sometimes recommended for patients with advanced nonproliferative retinopathy.)

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