How Diabetes Leads To Eye Problems (And How To Treat Them)
Wondering if blurry eyesight or similar vision problems could be related to your diabetes?
Yes, It is possible that this condition gives you a higher likelihood to develop certain eye diseases, especially if you have been diabetic for quite some time. Other risk factors include tobacco smoking, high cholesterol levels, and/or uncontrolled hypertension..
Of these factors, your blood sugar level is the most critical because when high, it can result in impaired blood vessels and nerves all over the body - including the eyes. 
Read on to get a better view on symptoms, treatment options, and prevention tips. You can also get answers to diabetes FAQs by reading about the Diabetes ABCs: Types, Risk Factors, And Tips On Coping.
Understanding your symptoms
If the eye problem is in the early phase, you might not even notice it, as there is usually no pain experienced, with only slight changes in vision. To find out exactly what the underlying factors are, a visit to an eye care professional is best to rule out (and perhaps, treat) sight correction.
Visit your doctor right away when any of the symptoms listed below happen to you :
- Recurring/repeated changes in vision
- Dark areas in sight / partial vision blocks or loss
- Difficulty /deficiency in distinguishing color
- Spots, specks, lines, strands that seem to float in your eye
- Flashes of light in corners of eye
- Shadow or curtain over eyes. This one is critical as it can indicate a detached retina (the photosensitive part of your eye)
What happens in a diabetic eye screening? [5,6]
Types of diabetes-induced eye diseases [1,4]
These are the main types of eye problems related to diabetes:
- Diabetic retinopathy - This is the most common eye disease among diabetics. This causes retinal blood vessels to expand/enlarge, and leak fluid into your eye. Left untreated, it can lead to blindness and retinal detachment, a condition where the retina is pulled away from the tissue surrounding it.
- Diabetic macular edema (DME) – This occurs when retinal blood vessels leak fluid, and seeps into the macula (the part of the retina responsible for sharp vision).
- Glaucoma- This happens when blood vessels in the front of your eye become damaged, due to new blood vessels growing near the iris. These vessels block the space where fluid drains from your eye. and causes built-up pressure inside.
- Cataract – This is when the lens of your eye becomes cloudy. While this is common with aging, diabetics are more likely to develop cataracts at a younger age, progressing faster than with people without diabetes.
The main objective for these treatments is to preserve vision and reduce loss of vision. This depends greatly on early detection and action to get the best results.
To get the appropriate course of treatment, your primary physician will most likely refer you to an eye care professional (typically an ophthalmologist) for a diabetic eye screening. After determining the condition of your eyes, options will then be recommended. An advanced stage or significant problems might require treatments [7,8] such as the following:
- Injected medications - like an anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) eye injection. Prices depend on the medicine prescribed.
- Laser surgery – sometimes called pan-retinal photo-coagulation treatment. Cost ranges from Php 50,000 - Php 140,000. May be done on an outpatient basis
- Vitrectomy - a type of eye surgery to treat issues with the retina and vitreous (the gel-like fluid in your eye). Cost ranges from Php 80,000 - Php 180,000
- Cataract lens surgery - replace the cloudy lens with an artificial lens
There are various risks involved for each type, ranging from blood clots, reduced vision, further eye diseases, and infection; and there may be a need for repeated treatments.
Your doctors should discuss these thoroughly with you, including fees. Because these treatments can be pricey, ask if your HMO and/or Philhealth can cover (even partially) these procedures. You can also ask hospitals and eye clinics about packages. Senior discounts will typically apply too, reducing cost by an additional 20%.
Tips for Prevention
This is always the best option - don’t wait for instances of impaired vision to happen. Add a visit to an eye care professional as part of your annual medical check-up. Manage your diabetic ABCs – blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol. The Philippine Society of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism affirms that “it has been proven that optimum blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol control lowers the risk or slows the progression of diabetic retinopathy.” .
Start moving and quit smoking. Talk to your doctor about eye health supplements that you can safely add to your usual medication regimen. And with the winning combination of lifestyle management and regular consultations with your doctors, you should be able to keep your vision issues out of sight.
Checked by Dr. Zandra Notario, M.D.