People with diabetes worry about a lot of things, but some don’t realize the danger to their eyesight. Yet diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among working-age Americans. You may not think much about your eyes each day, but what if you suddenly couldn’t see? If you have diabetes, it’s a real possibility.

What is Diabetic Eye Disease?

The phrase “diabetic eye disease” refers to one of four common eye problems that affect people with diabetes. According to Prevent Blindness, they are:

  • Diabetic retinopathy – A leading cause of blindness in American adults, it is caused by damage to the small blood vessels of the retina – the seeing layer of the eye.
  • Diabetic macular edema (DME) – A complication of diabetes caused by leaking blood vessels, which leads to fluid accumulation in the macula, the center of the retina used for central vision. DME can cause central vision to become blurry.
  • Cataract – The clouding of the lens in the eye, which blocks or changes the passage of light into the eye. Cataracts can cause vision to become blurry.
  • Glaucoma – Optic nerve damage and possible loss of side vision, usually caused by an increase in fluid pressure inside the eye.

Read more about the treatment for each of these diseases. While medicine and surgery can help, prevention is the best cure.

Preventing Eye Problems

From 2000 to 2010, the number of cases of diabetic retinopathy increased 89 percent from 4.06 million to 7.69 million, according to the National Institutes of Health. With more people suffering from these problems, it’s critical for diabetics to be aware of their eye health. Early detection, timely treatment, and appropriate follow-up care of diabetic eye disease can protect against vision loss.

Here are the steps to take to maintain your eyesight into old age:

  • Visit the eye doctor annually for a comprehensive eye exam. Even if you have no vision problems now, those with diabetes should see an optometrist who can check the overall health of your eyes. This exam should include retinal photographs and dilation.
  • Maintain good levels of blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Watch for blurry vision or an increase in floaters and tell your doctor and eye doctor about them.
  • Other symptoms include wavy vision, frequently changing vision, dark areas, poor color vision, spots, and flashes of light.

If you’re having vision problems with or without diabetes, contact your doctor for an appointment as soon as possible.