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If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you're more likely to have eye and vision problems. High blood sugar can damage the tiny blood vessels in your eyes over time and lead to an eye disease called diabetic retinopathy. High blood sugars can also lead to cataracts and glaucoma. So take care of your diabetes -- and keep up with annual eye exams -- to take care of your eyes.

Diabetes and Eye Problems

Diabetic retinopathy: At some point, nearly one out of three people with diabetes has retinopathy -- damage to the blood vessels in the retina, the lining of tissue at the back of your eye. Non-proliferative retinopathy, which doesn't usually threaten your eyesight, is most common.

If you continue to have high blood sugars over several years, though, you could go on to have a more severe disease known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy. It's called "proliferative" because new blood vessels start to grow (proliferate) on the surface of the retina, the part of the eye that makes sight possible. These blood vessels are fragile and can leak blood or fluid. This causes scarring of the retina and long-term vision loss.

Diabetic retinopathy may also cause macular edema. This happens when fluid leaks into the part of the retina that helps give you the sharp, central vision you need for reading, driving, and seeing fine details. Instead, things look blurry.

Many studies have shown that you can cut your odds of losing your vision from retinopathy and macular edema with strict control of your blood sugars, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Finding and treating diabetic retinopathy early can slow or even reverse some forms of vision loss. If you have diabetes, you should see an eye doctor at least once a year. If your annual exams are normal, you may be able to have follow-up exams every 2-3 years.

There are many ways to treat diabetic proliferative retinopathy. Your doctor may target the retina with a special laser to shrink the new blood vessels. This can keep your vision better longer. It works best if used before the fragile new vessels have started to bleed.

If the damage to your blood vessels is worse and they already bleed, you may need a vitrectomy. This procedure removes abnormal blood vessels from the inside or cavity of your eyeball. These fragile vessels can rupture easily, causing profuse bleeding in your eye. You may also need treatment to repair a detached retina or damaged macula caused by this new blood vessel growth. If you have macular edema, laser surgery or drugs placed inside your eye can slow leaking around the macula.

Diabetes and cataracts: You're more likely to have cataracts -- and at a younger age -- if you have diabetes. Cataracts cloud your eye's lens and cause blurred vision. If you have mild cataracts, sunglasses and glare-control glasses can help. If it's severe, cataract surgery replaces the cloudy lens with a man-made lens to improve your vision.

Diabetes and glaucoma: Having diabetes doubles your odds of glaucoma, a condition that puts added pressure in your eye. This extra pressure can damage the retina and the optic nerve, the main eye nerve for sight. You likely won't have symptoms early on, although some people slowly lose vision or see bright halos or colored rings around lights. Glaucoma is treated with prescription eye drops to lower eye pressure. In some cases, you may need laser treatment or surgery.