Diabetes causes eye problems because high blood sugar damages the small blood vessels in your eyes. It can affect one or both eyes. This seemingly small damage can lead to big problems. It causes a chain of events that can cause vision loss. It can even lead to permanent blindness.
The Steps of Eye Problems Due to Diabetes
Damage to the Small Blood Vessels in the Eye
High levels of blood sugar over time can make your eye’s small blood vessels leaky. This affects the part of the eye called the retina. The retina is a thin layer in the back of the eye which sends an image to your brain.
Leaky blood vessels are less able to carry blood and oxygen to your eye. Lack of oxygen makes eye cells in the retina begin to die. This damage causes no symptoms at first.
Death of Eye Cells
The eye cells that are starving for oxygen send out signals. These signals cause your eye to build new blood vessels. This is an attempt to get more blood with oxygen to the eye cells.
Growth of Abnormal Blood Vessels in the Eye
New blood vessels growing under stressful conditions grow in incorrect directions. They are also leaky, fragile, and may bleed. By now, you may start to notice symptoms. Bleeding vessels can cause “floaters” or loss of parts of your vision.
Vision Loss and Blindness
At this point, more serious damage to your vision can occur in several ways:
- With repeated damage, scarring occurs around the damaged eye vessels. The scarring can pull on the retina. This pulling can cause the retina to detach from its connections at the back of the eye. This is called retinal detachment. When the retina is not attached properly, images can’t be sent to the brain. This can cause you to lose part or all of your vision in one eye.
- Leaky vessels can cause excess fluid and swelling in the eye. This is especially true in the part of the retina called the macula. This swelling is called macular edema. The macula is an important part of the retina. It helps you clearly see things directly in front of you. Macular edema can cause you to have blurry vision when you look straight ahead. It can also lead to blindness.
- New leaky blood vessels can grow in other parts of the eye. If they grow around the colored part of your eye (the iris), they can block the flow of liquid in your eye. If this flow is blocked, the pressure inside your eye increases. Glaucoma is the term for when you have high pressure in your eyes. Glaucoma, although rarer, is a very serious problem. It can cause painful, permanent, and sudden loss of eyesight.
Uncontrolled high blood sugar can lead to vision problems and even blindness. Getting your blood sugar under control is the best way to prevent this cycle of eye damage. You should also have regular eye exams.
Get it right—lower your blood sugar and protect your sight!