Diabetes, a life-altering condition characterized by the body’s inability to regulate blood sugar properly, is known for its wide range of complications. One such complication is the increased risk of certain eye conditions, including the group of eye diseases collectively known as glaucoma.
Diabetes and Glaucoma
Diabetes occurs when the body is either unable to produce sufficient insulin or cannot effectively utilize the insulin it produces. This leads to difficulties in managing blood sugar levels, potentially causing a cascade of diabetic eye conditions.
Glaucoma, on the other hand, comprises a group of eye diseases that inflict damage to the optic nerve at the back of the eye. Glaucoma can ultimately lead to vision loss and, in severe cases, blindness.
How Diabetes Influences Glaucoma
High blood sugar levels, a common occurrence in individuals with diabetes, can damage the blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive layer of cells at the back of the eye. This damage leads to a condition known as diabetic retinopathy.
Over time, damaged blood vessels may swell and leak, causing blurred vision and reduced retinal blood flow. In some cases, diabetic retinopathy can trigger abnormal blood vessel growth within the retina. This abnormal growth can obstruct fluid drainage from the eye, leading to increased eye pressure and damage to the optic nerve—a condition synonymous with glaucoma.
Research indicates that diabetes is associated with an elevated risk of developing glaucoma. Some evidence suggests that if a person has diabetes, their risk of developing glaucoma nearly doubles.
The link between diabetes and glaucoma remains somewhat of a mystery, though several studies propose potential pathways. One theory posits that diabetes may lead to microvascular damage and vascular mismanagement in the retina and the optic disc, increasing the vulnerability of the optic nerve head, a symptom associated with glaucoma. Additionally, it has been suggested that diabetes might interfere with the functioning of the trabecular meshwork, contributing to a rise in Intraocular Pressure (IOP).
Other Diabetic Eye Diseases
Diabetic Macular Edema
The part of the retina needed for reading, driving, and seeing faces is known as the macula. Diabetes can result in swelling in the macula, a condition called diabetic macular edema. Over time, this disease can erode the sharp vision in this part of the eye, leading to partial vision loss or blindness.
Cataracts occur when the clear structure in your eyes, the lens, begins to cloud. People with diabetes are more likely to develop cataracts at an earlier age than those without diabetes. It is believed that high glucose levels cause deposits to accumulate in the lenses of your eyes.
Risk Factors for Glaucoma and Diabetic Retinopathy
Several factors can increase the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. These factors include:
- Prolonged duration of diabetes
- High blood sugar
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
Those at risk of developing glaucoma may also include people over 60, those with a family history of glaucoma, people with nearsightedness, and those suffering from obstructive sleep apnea. Some races may be more likely to develop the disease than others, like African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Hispanics/Latinos, Pacific Islanders.
Detect and Slow Progression
Glaucoma tends to progress slowly and does not usually cause symptoms at first. This often causes late diagnoses because many people remain unaware that they have the condition. As glaucoma progresses, peripheral vision, the vision closest to the nose, starts to gradually decline.
Without treatment, glaucoma can eventually cause blindness. Therefore, it’s important to maintain regular eye examinations, particularly for people with diabetes.
Glaucoma Diagnosis and Treatment
The diagnosis and treatment of diabetes-related glaucoma often involve a multi-faceted approach. Managing blood sugar levels is a critical first step. If high pressure persists in the eye, your glaucoma treatment plan may include prescription eye drops to lower eye pressure and prevent optic nerve damage, laser treatments to slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma surgery if standard medications and laser treatments provided by an ophthalmologist prove ineffective..
For diabetes patients, certain steps can be taken to help prevent the development of glaucoma, including:
- Regular eye exams to diagnose glaucoma early
- Family discussions about eye health history
- Maintaining a moderate weight
- Controlling blood pressure
- Engaging in physical activity
- Avoiding smoking
When to Contact a Healthcare Professional
Even if a person does not fall into a high-risk category, it’s recommended to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam starting at age 40. Regular examinations can help diagnose glaucoma and other eye diseases early, enabling early glaucoma treatment to slow glaucoma progression and reduce vision loss. Diabetic eye exams are especially important for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes patients.
If you notice any changes in your peripheral vision, it’s important to consult your healthcare provider at Center For Sight and schedule a dilated eye exam.
The advice in this blog is for general informational purposes only and may not be suited for your exact insurance plan and visual needs. Therefore, consulting a qualified healthcare professional for personalized advice and treatment is essential.
About Center For Sight
Center For Sight provides ophthalmology, optometry, dermatology and cosmetic surgery services to patients in Southwest Florida. The practice offers patients convenient access to nationally renowned surgeons, highly-trained, compassionate staff members and cutting-edge technology. Center For Sight’s mission is to “bring clear vision to life” through trusting relationships and the unending pursuit of excellence in eye care. For additional information and locations, visit CenterForSight.net.
About Center For Sight Foundation
The Center For Sight Foundation is a donor-advised fund maintained and operated by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, a section 501(c)(3) organization. The fund is composed of contributions made by individual donors. David W. Shoemaker, M.D., established the Center For Sight Foundation to support the annual Mission Cataract program, which restores vision at no cost for people living at the poverty level suffering vision loss due to cataracts. For more information, visit CFSFoundation.org.