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Eye problems are a common diabetes complication

A woman wearing glasses taking part in an exercise class.

Nov. 10, 2019—Keep a close watch on your vision. That's crucial—and potentially sight-saving—advice if you have diabetes.

One complication of diabetes is diabetic eye disease—a group of eye problems that can steal vision and even cause blindness. These problems include:

  • Diabetic retinopathy. This is the most common cause of vision loss for people with diabetes, according to the National Eye Institute. It damages blood vessels in the retina, a layer of light-sensitive tissue in the back of your eye. This tissue sends signals to your brain so you can see.
  • Glaucoma. This increase in fluid pressure inside the eye can harm your optic nerve, which is essential for vision. People with diabetes are more likely to develop glaucoma than those without it, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Glaucoma first steals side vision and then straight-ahead vision.
  • Cataracts. Here the lens of your eye becomes cloudy, blurring vision. Diabetes raises the risk of cataracts. And people with diabetes also tend to get cataracts at a younger age and have them progress faster than people who don't have diabetes.

The longer you have diabetes, the more likely you are to develop diabetic eye disease.

Protect your eyes

The good news? If you have diabetes, a few steps can keep eye problems minor. They can help prevent diabetic eye disease—or keep it from getting worse if you already have it.

1. Manage your diabetes "ABCs." A is for the A1C test, which shows your average blood sugar level over the past three months. B is for blood pressure. And C is for cholesterol. Ask your doctor what your targets are. Keeping them in a healthy range can protect your vision.

2. Get regular eye checkups. Often there are no warning signs in the early stages of diabetic eye disease. Protect your eyes with a full, dilated eye exam at least once a year. This can help find—and treat—eye problems early, often before much vision loss occurs.

3. Quit smoking. Smoking raises your risk of diabetes-related eye problems. So if you smoke, ask your doctor for help quitting.

4. Watch for red flags. Timely treatment is best for eye disease that has already developed. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, you should tell your eye doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Blurry or wavy vision.
  • Frequently changing vision—sometimes from day to day.
  • Dark areas or vision loss.
  • Poor color vision.
  • Spots or dark strings (also called floaters).
  • Flashes of light.
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