Diabetes can cause serious eye problems. In fact, it is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in American adults ages 20–74 years.
Before we go over the natural therapies that can help prevent diabetic eye problems, here are three eye conditions commonly associated with diabetes.
Common Diabetic Eye Problems
Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the small blood vessels in the retina (the nerve-filled part of the eye helps us see) become damaged, usually as a result of elevated blood glucose levels. The longer your blood sugar remains elevated, or the longer you have diabetes, the higher your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.
Early diagnosis and diabetic retinopathy treatment are very important, because diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the industrialized world today.
There are three main types of diabetic retinopathy:
Background retinopathy occurs when the blood vessels are damaged, but there is no problem with vision.
Maculopathy happens as a result of damage to the macula—a small area in the center of the retina that provides central vision and helps you see fine details. Maculopathy leads to impaired vision.
Proliferative retinopathy takes place if blood vessels in the eye begin to become obstructed due to a lack of oxygen.
Cataracts, or blind spots in the lens of the eye, can progress dramatically as we age, but people with diabetes are at much higher risk for cataracts than people without diabetes.
Part of the reason for the higher risk is related to how cataracts form. Cataracts develop as a result of glycation—a process that occurs when sugar molecules attach to protein molecules.
In the eyes, this process has an effect similar to what happens when you crack an egg into a hot frying pan. Just as the clear part of the egg turns cloudy as the proteins undergo glycation, the same thing happens when the protein-dense lenses of the eyes interact with high levels of blood glucose. The eyes cloud over with cataracts.
Because it can take anywhere from a few months to several years for a cataract to have a noticeable effect on vision, it is important to get regular eye exams if you have diabetes to avoid this diabetic eye problem.
People with glaucoma have an imbalance between the production and outflow of fluid in the eye. This creates abnormally elevated eye pressure and can lead to loss of peripheral vision or “tunnel vision.” This can happen quickly with acute glaucoma, but most cases are chronic and progress slowly over time.
If you have diabetes, you are at higher risk of developing the more severe forms of glaucoma because the abnormal pressure in the eye compounds damage caused by elevated blood sugar levels.
More Dr. Whitaker Advice on Diabetic Eye Problems