What is it? Over time, the chronic blood-sugar highs of uncontrolled diabetes can weaken and damage the eye’s fragile blood vessels. The result: Fluid from the damaged vessels may leak into the retina, and new vessels may grow—a combination that leads to a gradual loss of vision.
In fact, retinopathy is one of the major causes of blindness in the U.S. Retina specialist K. Bailey Freund, MD, clinical associate professor at NYU School of Medicine, notes that excess liquid in the retina can cause the macula (the center of the retina) to swell or even detach—a problem that can lead to permanent vision loss.
Know the signs: Distorted vision is a common marker of retinopathy, says Dr. Freund, as is seeing a glare or noticing shadowy vision. So if objects lose their sharpness, get to your doctor right away to figure out the problem.
What are they? Cataracts are a clouding of the lens. While they don’t usually develop until you reach your later years, folks with type 2 diabetes run nearly double the risk of the average person—at any age! And the longer you’ve had diabetes, the greater your odds. Although researchers are still looking for the exact reason, they suspect blood sugar elevation may cause premature aging of the lens. Note: If you’ve had retinopathy, you are also at higher risk for having cataracts.
Know the signs: Are your prescription glasses no longer doing the trick? Don’t assume it’s just a normal vision change—it might be an early sign of cataracts. Either way, it’s time to get your eyes checked.
What is it? Glaucoma is a gradual loss of eyesight that happens because of increased pressure on the optic nerve as a result of failure to adequately drain the fluid in the front of the eye. People with diabetes—especially those with type 2—are at higher risk. It happens when abnormal blood vessels (see “Retinopathy,”) grow over the iris, causing fluid to build up and put pressure on the nerve.
Know the signs: One of the earliest symptoms is trouble seeing from side to side, so see your doctor if you notice blurry peripheral vision. If left untreated, glaucoma eventually affects your center vision.