In conjunction with American Diabetes Month, November is also Diabetic Eye Disease Month. There has been a sharp increase in diabetes and therefore diabetic eye diseases in recent years, making awareness that much more important. The three major eye problems that people with diabetes may develop are diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma.
According to recent studies by the National Eye Institute (NEI), diabetic retinopathy increased by 3.7 million new cases over the past decade making the total number of Americans with this disease 7.7 million. This rate is projected to reach 11 million people by 2030. When the sugar levels in the blood are high due to diabetes, it is very stressful on blood vessels in the the eye which can cause them to start to leak, bleed, and swell the retina thereby affecting vision. Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes and people don’t notice changes in their vision until the disease has already done quite a bit of damage.
People with diabetes are 60% more likely to develop cataracts and get them at an earlier age. A cataract is a clouding or fogging of the normally clear lens of the eye causing an inability to focus light. A common treatment for this disease is cataract surgery in which the damaged lens is removed or cleaned out and replaced by a clear man-made lens.
The increase of pressure inside the eye caused by diabetes can result in damage to the nerves of the eye resulting in glaucoma. People with diabetes are 40% more likely to develop glaucoma. Treatments include medications to increase drainage or reduce fluid production to alleviate the increased pressure. Unfortunately, there may be no symptoms of this eye problem until the disease is very advanced and there is significant vision loss