Diabetes is a condition that affects up to 2 million Canadians over the age of 12 according to a Statistics Canada report issued in 2010. While the more common effects of diabetes are relatively well known, such as low insulin production and adverse conditions caused by high blood sugar, what is less commonly known is that diabetes can have a direct and adverse effect on vision.
Diabetes is a well known risk factor for both myopia (nearsightedness) and hyperopia (farsightedness), and most diabetics have an increased likelihood of needing vision correction at some point in their life.
The highest risk faced by diabetics is for a specific type of vision condition known as retinopathy. This condition occurs when fine blood vessels inside the eye and retina, which are extraordinarily sensitive to blood and circulation conditions such as diabetes and arterial hypertension, can become damaged and/or leak, causing pressure to build up inside the eye. If left untreated, retinopathy is one of the leading causes of blindness in diabetics.
Early detection of retinopathy is key in preventing vision loss, and can occur with regular testing during an eye exam using retinal imaging equipment. Once detected, retinopathy can be treated with orally administered medication, or, if necessary, laser therapy of the retina. In most cases, a combination of both medication and laser therapy is used to promote the the highest chance of continued vision.
Other Concerns For Diabetics
While retinopathy is the most worrying condition, diabetics are also at higher risk of developing other vision conditions such as glaucoma and cataracts. Diabetes has been known to cause sudden and pronounced visual distortions such as sudden tunnel vision (loss of peripheral vision), blurry vision, sudden and acute eye fatigue, and fluctuations in visual clarity.
Some vision conditions for diabetics may be the first signs of emergency symptoms that may be evidence of deeper issues. Black spots in vision, painfully bright flashes of light in vision while in a normal light environment, blurred vision that does not correct itself after a few seconds, or “holes” in vision (acute vision loss), are all symptoms of serious conditions including retinopathy, and should be investigated immediately, either at an optometrist’s or hospital emergency room.