Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness each year in the U.S. This disease affects the vasculature throughout the entire body, and the eyes have many blood vessels. Diabetes can cause blood or fluid to leak in the retina, which can cause vision loss. Patients often do not have symptoms during the early stages of the disease process. Therefore, it is very important to have a yearly dilated eye examination. The longer a person has had diabetes, the more likely it is that he or she will have complications in the eyes from diabetes. People with diabetes have an increased risk of developing glaucoma, an eye condition which will be discussed below. Also, cataracts often develop more quickly in those with diabetes.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases which can cause permanent vision loss. When pressure within the eye is too high, it causes damage to the nerve fibers which make up the optic nerve, the structure which sends vision to the brain. Loss of vision begins in the periphery and then gradually moves centrally. During the early stages of glaucoma, patients are symptom-free. The technology available at optometrists' and ophthalmologists' offices can detect damage long before patients become symptomatic and start to notice vision loss. The only variable which can be controlled in the management of glaucoma is intraocular pressure. Initial treatment involves taking eye drops daily to lower the pressure within the eyes.
There are many factors which increase the risk of having glaucoma, including advanced age, a family history of glaucoma, high intraocular pressure, corticosteroid use, and a history of eye injury. Ethnicity also plays a large role in level of risk of developing glaucoma. African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians are more prone to developing glaucoma. Glaucoma is 6 to 8 times more prevalent among African Americans than other ethnic groups. If any of the above risk factors refer to you, it is especially important to have a dilated eye exam each year.
A cataract is a clouding and thickening of the natural lens inside the eye which sits behind the iris, the colored part of the eye. Most cataracts are a normal aging change. Cataracts can also be caused by trauma or certain types of radiation. Some babies are born with cataracts, or they can develop during childhood. This form is known as congenital cataracts.
To slow down the progression of age-related cataracts, it is important to wear sunglasses and/or a hat to protect the eyes from ultraviolet radiation. Cataracts cause vision to become more and more blurry over time. A decrease in the brightness of colors also occurs. Cataract surgery is a very safe and straight-forward out-patient procedure. As with any surgery, there are certain risks, so be sure to ask your eye doctor about the details of cataract surgery. Vision after cataract surgery is much sharper and the glasses prescription becomes minimal, but glasses may still need to be worn full-time.