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Eye health risks for people with diabetes

28 March 2014 Image of Diabetes test

Diabetes is a systemic disease, i.e. it affects multiple organs and tissues in the body. The increased glucose level in the eye’s blood vessels due to diabetes poses serious threats to one’s eye health. According to the American Diabetes Association, Diabetics are 60 percent more likely to develop cataract. They are also liable to acquiring the disease at a younger age, and having it progress faster than usual.

People with diabetes are also at a greater risk of developing glaucoma, a sight-threatening condition caused by increased fluid pressure in the eye. The longer someone has had diabetes, the more probable they are to get glaucoma. Age is another important risk factor.

The primary and most dangerous eye health problem caused by diabetes is Diabetic Retinopathy (DR). Retinopathy means damage to the retina – the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. High blood glucose and high blood pressure can damage the blood vessels that nourish the tissue and nerve cells in the retina. This results in leakage of blood and often progresses to blockage of the blood vessel. Since there are no noticeable changes in vision during this stage, the damage is left undetected and continues to grow.

Proliferation refers to rapid growth. Once more blood vessels become blocked, the damaged retina signals the body to produce new blood vessels. These new vessels are weak and start leaking blood, resulting in the advance stage of the disease called Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy. Vision loss may occur in this stage, and is often sudden and serious.

It is therefore essential that a comprehensive eye exam is done as soon as a person is identified with diabetes, and at least once a year thereafter. If retinopathy is detected, eye exams need to be conducted once every three months. If you are diabetic and notice changes in your vision, please seek the assistance of an eye health professional immediately.

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