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Diabetes: Taking charge of eye disease

People who have diabetes are at risk for eye disease. The best way to prevent damage from eye disease is to get regular checkups and report any vision changes right away.

You'd think eye problems would be easy to spot.

But that's not necessarily true, especially when the problem is eye disease caused by diabetes.

In fact, the early stages of diabetic eye disease often don't cause any noticeable vision changes.

Over time, though, diabetes can severely damage the eyes and even lead to blindness. And diabetic eye disease is very common—most people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes will get it, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

Focusing on prevention

Diabetic eye disease is most treatable in the early stages, precisely when symptoms tend to be most elusive. That's why it's so important for people with diabetes to keep eye health in mind even when their vision seems fine.

The National Eye Institute (NEI), the ADA, and other expert sources suggest the following steps to help reduce the risk of eye problems and to make sure you find any problems early on.

Keep blood sugar levels as close to the normal range as you can. Maintaining strict control of blood sugar levels through diet, exercise and medication can help reduce the risk of developing diabetic eye disease. And it can stop vision loss if you already have it, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

Control blood pressure and cholesterol. Managing blood pressure and cholesterol levels can help reduce the risk of vision loss and improve overall health.

See your eye doctor regularly. Even if your vision seems OK, your eyes need to be examined at least once a year, the ADA says.

One important test to have each year is the dilated eye exam. The doctor uses eyedrops to enlarge the black part of your eyes (the pupils) so that more of the inside of the eye can be checked for signs of disease.

Follow up on vision changes. Be sure to visit your eye doctor if you have any sudden vision changes.

Symptoms of diabetic eye disease can include:

  • Blurry or double vision.
  • Flashes.
  • Blank spots.
  • Dark or floating spots.
  • Pain or pressure in one or both eyes.
  • Trouble seeing things out of the corners of the eyes.

Also, the AAO says, make an appointment promptly if:

  • You have many new floaters.
  • You have many flashes.
  • Your peripheral vision is covered in a shadow.
  • Part of your vision is covered by a gray curtain.

Remember, whether you have symptoms or not, early detection and timely treatment can help prevent vision loss, according to the NEI.

Reviewed 9/24/2020

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