Wear Sunglasses Whenever You Are Outside
Wearing sunglasses can protect your eyes from harmful ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light can affect your eyelids, cornea, lens and retina. A pair of sunglasses that are engineered for 99-100% UV protection can be very beneficial.
Cant see the sun? You can still be affected. UV rays are present even when its cloudy. Sunglasses are important to block out those rays.
Prevention is the name of the game. By taking these steps, you should be able to reduce your risk of potentially blinding eye conditions. These tips are also a benefit to your overall health and help prevent other common diseases associated with diabetes.
How Is Diabetic Retinopathy Diagnosed
An eye doctor can diagnose diabetic retinopathy during a simple exam.
- Visual acuity: Acuity refers to how clearly you can see.
- Intraocular pressure to make sure there are no signs of glaucoma.
- Eye muscle function: Muscle function refers to how well you can move your eyes.
- Peripheral vision: Peripheral vision is seeing from the sides of your eyes.
- Pupil response: This assessment looks at how your pupils react to light.
Then, your eye doctor will put drops into your eyes. The drops dilate your pupils .
During this exam, the doctor looks for:
- Abnormal blood vessels.
- Bleeding in the center of your eye.
- Growth of new blood vessels.
- Retina swelling.
- Visual acuity.
In the early stages of the disease, your healthcare provider may use a wait-and-see approach especially in the setting of good vision. During this phase, you have regular eye exams but donât need further treatment. Some people need eye exams every two to four months.
Other treatment options include:
Reducing Your Risk Of Diabetic Retinopathy
To prevent retinopathy or prevent it from getting worse, keep your blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol within a healthy range.
Follow the ABCDEs of staying healthy with diabetes to reduce the risk of eye damage.
A A1C Most people should aim for an A1C of 7%* or less by managing blood sugars well. A1C is a blood test that is a measure of your average blood sugar level over the past 120 days.
B Blood pressure Control your blood pressure to less than 130/80* mmHg.
C Cholesterol The LDL cholesterol target is less than 2.0* mmol/L.
D Drugs to protect your heart Speak with your health-care team about medications.
E Exercise & Eating Regular physical activity, healthy eating, and maintain a healthy body weight.
S Screening for complications Ask your health-care team about tests for your heart, feet, kidneys, and eyes.
S Smoking cessation Stop smoking and seek support for help with quitting.
S Self management, stress, and other barriers Set goals for yourself to reach the targets and live well with diabetes, such as managing stress effectively.
* Discuss your target values with your health-care team. Note that A1C targets for pregnant women, older adults and children 12 years of age and under are different
For more information about diabetic retinopathy, visit the Canadian National Institute for the Blind .
To find a CAO optometrist in your area, visit the Canadian Association of Optometrists.
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Complications Of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy complications can result in serious vision problems, including:
Vitreous haemorrhage: It occurs when new blood vessels start to bleed into the vitreous fluid. When this complication is minor, you may see floaters. However, in severe haemorrhage, blood fills the vitreous cavity and temporarily blocks the vision completely. This complication takes a few weeks or months to clear unless the retina is damaged.
Glaucoma: Diabetic retinopathy causes new blood vessels to grow in the front of the eye as well. This results in a buildup of eye pressure and interference with the normal fluid flow. Glaucoma can damage the optic nerve and can lead to permanent blindness.
Retinal detachment: When damaged blood vessels pull the retina away from the support tissue, retinal detachment occurs. In this condition, you may observe floaters and flashes of light initially and then complete obscuration of vision.
What Symptoms Of Diabetic Retinopathy Should I Look Out For
Diabetic retinopathy tends to progress slowly over a period of time often without causing any symptoms. Patients are generally asymptomatic during the initial stages of diabetic retinopathy. In rare cases, people experience a sudden onset of blindness, without any symptoms and no mild vision problems at first.
Patients with severe and irreversible retinal damage may develop a few symptoms such as:
- Pain in the eye
- Blurring of vision, which does not improve even with glasses
- Alternative worsening and improvement of the vision
- Seeing spots, cobwebs, or a hole in the field of vision
- Sudden loss of vision, especially after events like coughing and sneezing
You can read more in our recent blog on how is Diabetic Retinopathy is diagnosed and treated.
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What Is The Treatment For Diabetic Eye Disease
Medical treatment of diabetic eye disease is generally directed at the underlying problem — the diabetes itself. The better control a patient has of the disease, the fewer problems they will have in the long run.
Monitoring the patient’s glycosylated hemoglobin is the best assessment of the overall level of blood sugar control. A medical doctor will order this blood test at least once a year. If the patient’s results are initially found to be abnormal or if the patient’s self-test blood sugar results become more variable, then this blood test may be ordered more frequently.
- For diabetic retinopathy, available medical treatment includes injections of corticosteroids or anti-vascular-proliferative medications in the area around the eye may be used.
- The presence of glaucoma requires the use of antiglaucoma medications in the form of eye drops.
How Diabetes Affects The Eyes
Having too much sugar in your blood can damage the blood vessels in the part of the eye called the retina. The retina is the tissue lining the back of the eye.
High sugar levels cause the blood vessels to swell and leak into the retina and cause blurred vision or blind spots. If left untreated, new blood vessels may grow and cause further damage to your vision.
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Look Out For Any Changes To Your Eyesight
You might not have any symptoms of retinopathy before it starts to affect your sight. So it’s important to go to your eye screening appointments.
But some people do notice changes to their vision. These wont be the same for everyone, but here are some of the early signs:
- seeing floaters these look like whispy clouds, floating in and out of your vision
- dimmer vision like youre wearing sunglasses all the time
- struggling to see when its dark.
If you notice any changes, or youre struggling to see as clearly as normal, make an appointment with your doctor straight away. Dont wait until your next screening.
Your eyesight can also go a bit blurry if your blood sugar goes higher than usual, even for a short time. This is normal and is a symptom of high blood sugars. Get your sugar levels back to your target level and when theyve settled, your vision should go back to normal.
Quit Smoking Or Never Start
Youre probably aware that smoking can cause severe health issues like cancer and heart disease.
You may not know, however, that smokers are also more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes and more likely to experience the diseases which cause vision loss. Smoking increases the risk of diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration which all lead to vision loss or blindness.
Quitting smoking is not easy, but its worth it for your health and improving your chances of keeping your sight well into your golden years.
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Other Types Of Diabetic Eye Disease
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss for people with diabetes. But diabetes can also make you more likely to develop several other eye conditions:
- Cataracts. Having diabetes makes you 2 to 5 times more likely to develop cataracts. It also makes you more likely to get them at a younger age. Learn more about cataracts.
- Open-angle glaucoma. Having diabetes nearly doubles your risk of developing a type of glaucoma called open-angle glaucoma. Learn more about glaucoma.
Do I Need To Follow Up With My Doctor After Being Diagnosed With Diabetic Eye Disease
If you or someone you know has diabetes and mild diabetic eye disease, follow-up examinations with an ophthalmologist every year may be all that is necessary.
If the person has a more serious disease, more frequent follow-up appointments with an ophthalmologist are required based on the severity of the disease.
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How Can I Reduce My Risk Of Diabetic Retinopathy
There are several ways to prevent vision loss due to diabetes. Keeping your blood sugar levels within the recommended target range is of outmost importance. Good control of your blood pressure and cholesterol levels can also reduce the risk of vision loss.
Active lifestyle and adopting healthy dietary habits is another key to good diabetes care and prevention of diabetes complications like diabetic eye disease. Having your eyes checked on a regular basis is crucial for early detection of diabetic retinopathy.
In a recent blog we included several tips on how to prevent diabetic retinopathy.
Who Is At Risk
Anyone who has type I or II diabetes is at risk of diabetic retinopathy.
However, if youve had diabetes for a long time or dont manage and control your blood sugar well, youre more likely to experience complications. Pregnancy, tobacco use, and high blood pressure or cholesterol also increase your risk.
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Who Gets Diabetic Retinopathy
Beyond the presence of diabetes, how well your blood sugar is controlled is a major factor determining how likely you are to develop diabetic retinopathy with accompanying vision loss.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure has been associated with eye damage related to diabetes. Also, studies have shown a greater rate of progression of diabetic retinopathy in diabetic women when they become pregnant.
Of course, the longer you have diabetes, the more likely you are to experience vision loss.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology notes that all diabetics who have the disease long enough eventually will develop at least some degree of diabetic retinopathy, though less advanced forms of the eye disease may not lead to vision loss.
Preservation Of Eyesight Is Simple
The American Diabetes Associations HbA1c guidelines suggest people strive for an HbA1c at or below 7 percent for the best possible prevention of diabetes-related eye complications.
Research has also shown that, even for adolescents with type 1 diabetes, an A1c below 7.5 percent significantly reduces the risk of retinopathy.
While taking vitamins A, E, C, and lutein can help improve eye health, nothing can compensate for persistently high blood sugar levels.
And everyone with diabetes should have their eyes examined every year.
The NEI also reported that early detection through annual eye exams can reduce your risk of vision loss by 95 percent .
The most important information for the patient to have is they must be involved with their care. This means careful vigilance with diet, exercise, and blood sugar control along with regular monitoring with their retinal specialist, added Fromer. This is their greatest chance to save their vision.
Ginger Vieira is an expert patient living with type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, and fibromyalgia. Find her and her books on Diabetes Strong, and connect with her on and .
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What Percentage Of People With Diabetes And Diabetic Retinopathy Go Blind
According to the International Diabetes Federation , around a third of the global diabetes population of 463 million will develop some form of eye health complication that could have devastating and wide ranging social and economic impact if left untreated. The IDF estimates that 224 million people will have diabetic retinopathy and 70 million will have sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy by 2040.
Nearly 98% of patients with type 1 diabetes and 78% with type 2 diabetes are expected to develop minimal retinal damage after having diabetes for more than 15 years. Some studies suggest that around 17 million worldwide have proliferative diabetic retinopathy and without treatment over half of the patients with high-risk proliferative diabetic retinopathy will go blind within 5 years.
Though most patients with diabetes suffer from a varying extent of vision impairment, only about 5% of them develop severe vision loss. While this may not seem like a high number, bear in mind that the global diabetic population is expected to reach 700 million by 2045, according to the IDF, meaning 35 million people could go blind!
Cbd Was Successful In Rodent Models
Were already using cannabis to treat mice with diabetic retinopathy. Why not humans?
Over the last several decades, legal barriers have prevented scientists from studying cannabis in great depth.
While research in humans is sorely lacking, animal research has already shown that cannabis-based medicines may have a positive effect in diabetic retinopathy.
In 2006, scientists from Georgia discovered that treating mice with an experimental model of diabetic retinopathy successfully reduced symptoms, eased inflammation, decreased neuronal death, and prevented the breakdown of the blood-retinal barrier.
In the study, rats were treated with injections of 10 milligrams of CBD isolate every other day.
Additional research has found that the endocannabinoid system is dysregulated in diabetic retinopathy, indicating that cannabis-based therapies may be useful in treating the disease.
The endocannabinoid system is a neurotransmitter network that helps the body respond to signals from its environment.
The ECS is also the primary way cannabis compounds like CBD engage with the human body, giving the herb medicinal effects.
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Cannabis Compounds Reduce Insulin Sensitivity
Not only has the cannabis plant shown serious potential as an anti-inflammatory, neuroprotectant, and potential treatment for diabetic retinopathy, but emerging research suggests that the herb may be useful for treating diabetes altogether.
In type 1 diabetes, early research has found that CBD reduces pancreatic inflammation and may even stall the overall progression of the disease.
In type 2 diabetes, cannabis compounds have shown the astounding ability to improve insulin sensitivity and improve fasting glucose levels in early human trials.
How Diabetic Retinopathy Is Diagnosed
During your eye exam, your eye doctor will check how well you see the details of letters or symbols from a distance. Your doctor will also look at the retina and inside of your eyes and may use a dye to reveal leaky blood vessels. If it turns out you have diabetic retinopathy, your eye doctor may want to check your vision more often than once a year.
You should be checked for diabetic retinopathy immediately if youre diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. If you have type 1 diabetes, you should be checked within 5 years of your diagnosis and then regularly thereafter, typically every year. The sooner youre treated for diabetic retinopathy, the better that treatment will work.
- Difficulty reading or doing detail work
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How Diabetes Can Affect The Eyes
The retina is the light-sensitive layer of cells at the back of the eye that converts light into electrical signals. The signals are sent to the brain which turns them into the images you see.
The retina needs a constant supply of blood, which it receives through a network of tiny blood vessels.
Over time, a persistently high blood sugar level can damage these blood vessels in 3 main stages:
- background retinopathy tiny bulges develop in the blood vessels, which may bleed slightly but do not usually affect your vision
- pre-proliferative retinopathy more severe and widespread changes affect the blood vessels, including more significant bleeding into the eye
- proliferative retinopathy scar tissue and new blood vessels, which are weak and bleed easily, develop on the retina this can result in some loss of vision
However, if a problem with your eyes is picked up early, lifestyle changes and treatment can stop it getting worse.
- eye pain or redness
- difficulty seeing in the dark
These symptoms do not necessarily mean you have diabetic retinopathy, but it’s important to get them checked out.
Do not wait until your next screening appointment.
Precautions For Reducing The Risk Of Diabetic Retinopathy
Reduce the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, or you can also help stop this condition from getting worse, by maintaining the blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol levels at optimal levels. In order to avoid Diabetic Retinopathy make the choice of a healthy lifestyle like eating balanced meals, regular exercise, avoiding smoking etc.
Do not miss your regular eye-examinations as many eye complications can be detected early through such screening and vision loss can be prevented. With treatment diabetic retinopathy can be reversed to an extent. But the best thing is to prevent it with early diagnosis.
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When Should I Seek Care For Diabetic Retinopathy
If you have diabetes, itâs important to have an eye exam at least once per year. Pregnant women who have diabetes should schedule an eye exam during their first trimester.
Between eye appointments, call your healthcare provider if you notice:
- Black spots in your vision.
- Blurred vision.
- Flashes of light.
- Holes in your vision.
Anyone who has diabetes has a risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. This serious eye condition needs immediate treatment. Without intervention, it can lead to vision loss and even blindness. But timely treatment can prevent vision loss and stop disease progression. The best way to avoid the disease is by managing your diabetes and controlling your blood sugar. Schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider if you notice any new vision changes.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/22/2021.