Doctors have long known that people with diabetes are more likely than others to develop cataracts-cloudiness in the lens of the eye that blurs and dulls your vision. But now, research suggests this cataract risk may be far worse for some people than experts thought.
Whatever your risk, there are important steps you can take to help prevent cataracts and other eye problems linked to diabetes.
Your eyes have lenses in them that work just like a camera’s, enabling you to see clearly. If a camera lens is smudged with dirt or fingerprints, the pictures it takes will be blurry and faded. Similarly, a cataract makes the lens of the eye less transparent, causing poor vision.
Cataracts develop gradually over years, so you may not notice them at first. They usually appear in both eyes and slowly keep getting worse. Eventually, they can make everyday activities like reading or driving difficult.
The most common symptoms of cataracts include:
- Cloudy or blurry vision
- Faded colors
- Sensitivity to bright lights and glare
- A halo around lights
- Poor night vision
- Double vision
- Frequent changes in your prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses
These symptoms could instead be signs of other eye problems. If you notice any of them, a simple exam by your eye care professional can tell you whether you have cataracts.
To learn more about the relationship between diabetes and cataract risk, researchers examined the medical records of more than 112,000 people. Half of them had diabetes and half did not, serving as a control group.
The cataract risk for people with diabetes peaked from ages 45 to 54. It was five times the risk of people without diabetes. And this was not the only important finding.
“The report has shown that having diabetes doubles your risk of being diagnosed with cataracts and that this risk is six times higher if a diabetic patient has a significant diabetic retinal disease, called diabetic maculopathy,” said Rupert Bourne in a news release. He’s a co-author of the study and a professor of ophthalmology at Angelia Ruskin University’s Vision and Eye Research Unit.
What Raises The Risk Of Cataracts?
Diabetes isn’t the only thing that could cause cataracts. A variety of possible causes have been identified, including sun exposure, certain diseases, and even smoking. But age is the leading risk factor: the older you get, the greater your risk. More than half of all Americans over 80 have had significant vision problems from cataracts. That’s why researchers in the study were surprised to find that the odds of developing cataracts were highest earlier in life for people with diabetes.
Poorly controlled blood sugar levels are blamed for the elevated eye risks linked to diabetes. Over time, chronically high blood sugar may lead to swelling that distorts the eye’s lens, as well as cataracts.
Protecting Your Eyesight
Most people with diabetes can successfully work with their healthcare team to bring high blood sugar levels down and keep them in a healthy range. That will help keep your vision sharp and prevent a host of other diabetes complications too.
Another important step you can take is a regular dose of preventive medicine: get a complete eye exam at least once a year, or more often if your eye care professional recommends it. That’s the best way to find problems when they are small-perhaps even before you notice them. Catch them early and they may be easier to treat.
Anyone can develop cataracts, and there’s no proven way to prevent them. But many experts say these additional steps may further reduce your chances of getting cataracts:
- Wear sunglasses that block at least 99 percent of UVA and UVB rays
- Keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels in the safe ranges
- Limit alcohol to no more than two drinks per day
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Don’t smoke
What If You Already Have Cataracts?
In the early stages of cataracts, wearing stronger glasses or contact lenses and using brighter lights may temporarily help to counter the symptoms. But when a cataract worsens enough to interfere with your day-to-day routine, it’s time to consider surgery. Cataract surgery replaces a cloudy lens with an artificial one. It’s typically done on an outpatient basis and usually brings excellent results.
Your Efforts Will Pay Off
Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, serious vision problems can be avoided in most cases with good diabetes management. Sure, staying on top of your diabetes is easier said than done. But taking small, simple steps every day and working with your healthcare team to refine your self-care regimen in the years to come is the key to a longer, healthier life-and that’s worth the effort.