There are many things that can cause eye strain and blurry vision, such as spending a lot of time in front of a screen. But blurry vision is also a common warning sign for diabetes. If not caught early or properly managed, diabetes can damage the small blood vessels in the retina — a layer of light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye that sends visual signals to the brain. This condition, called retinopathy, can result in blindness.
Diabetes is a complex disease that occurs when your body does not produce insulin normally. Insulin is a hormone that allows the body to break down sugars that our cells use for energy. Increased blood sugar (or blood glucose) can cause the lenses of your eyes to swell with fluid, causing distorted vision or blurriness. If not managed, unhealthy sugar levels can progress to diabetic retinopathy.
Preventing diabetic retinopathy
In order to prevent permanent damage to the retina, doctors recommend a yearly eye exam with dilation. Dilation involves using drops that open the pupil and allow doctors to examine the retina for damage. In addition to regular eye exams, these steps can lower the likelihood or severity of diabetic retinopathy:
- Keep blood glucose levels normal so the eye functions properly and the swelling decreases. You are four times less likely to develop retinopathy if you control your blood sugar.
- Keep blood pressure levels in check to prevent damage to the optic nerve. High blood pressure is the primary cause of glaucoma, a disease that leads to vision loss.
- Eat leafy greens and other brightly colored fruits and vegetables to help prevent cataracts, a clouding of the eye lens, which is common among diabetic patients.
- Wear sunglasses to keep direct sunlight from affecting the eyes.
- Eat fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, like tuna and salmon, two or more times a week.
Pay attention to warning signs
As diabetes progresses, blood vessels in the retina may be permanently damaged. The longer you’ve had diabetes, the higher your chance of developing some level of retinopathy, particularly if you haven’t taken preventive steps.
If you are diabetic, be aware that blurriness is just one symptom of retinopathy. Others include:
- Spots, floaters or halos
- Difficulty with night vision
- Seeing double
- Consistently red eyes
- Problems with peripheral vision
- Pressure in the eyes
While some patients with retinopathy have symptoms, many do not. Without regular eye exams, retinopathy can quickly become problematic. This makes treatment less effective, or even impossible.
Treating diabetic eye problems
If you do have retinopathy, continue to follow prevention measures to slow the progression of the disease. With advanced disease, your doctor may recommend more aggressive treatment options to prevent blindness. These include:
- Injectable medicines
- Laser surgery to burn and seal blood vessels on the retina (to slow growth and leakage)
- Removal of scar tissue and cloudy fluid in the eye (vitrectomy)
Visit the UCLA Stein Eye Institute for more information on diabetic retinopathy or find a provider by calling 800-825-2631.