Glaucoma may occur amongst people with and without diabetes, and can be a complication of diabetes if retinopathy develops.
Glaucoma is caused by an excess amount of fluid pressing on the nerve at the back of the eye.
How does glaucoma start?
The eye produces a small amount of fluid like water in its middle chamber, which flows around the lens of the eye into the front chamber.
The fluid leaves the eye using a drainage network and then enters the bloodstream.
Commonly, glaucoma causes the drainage system to become blocked, and fluid becomes trapped in the eye. This causes pressure to build up in the eye and pass to the nerve at the rear of the eye.
This nerve may become damaged by glaucoma.
If you’re like most people living with diabetes, blindness is probably one of your biggest fears. That’s because the risk of eyesight problems (glaucoma, retinal disease, cataracts, etc.) is much higher for people with diabetes.
In fact, people with diabetes are THREE TIMES more likely to develop glaucoma than people without diabetes – especially if they are over the age of 40.
Glaucoma is the world’s second leading cause of blindness, and is commonly referred to as the “thief of sight” because many people are unaware of the disease until the later stages – when blindness is imminent.
Fortunately, many of these eyesight problems, such as glaucoma, can be avoided with proper diabetes management (following recommended exercise and nutritional guidelines), as well as regular eye exams.
Since January is National Glaucoma Month, we’ve included some basic information about glaucoma, the risk of developing the eye disease if you have diabetes, and some tips not just to avoid developing glaucoma, but also preventing loss of eyesight and blindness in general.
Glaucoma and Your Eyesight
Glaucoma is a group of progressive eye diseases that cause blurred vision and loss of eyesight – especially in relation to peripheral vision. If left untreated, it can even result in blindness. The image above demonstrates how glaucoma affects eyesight. Notice the dark, blurred edges?
Glaucoma is caused by increased eye pressure, which causes slow, irreversible damage to the eye’s optic nerve. In open-angle glaucoma – the most common type of glaucoma – fluid is stuck at the front of the eye because the angle becomes blocked by part of the iris.
People with this type of glaucoma have a sudden increase in eye pressure. Other types of glaucoma include: low-tension or normal-tension glaucoma, congenital glaucoma and secondary glaucoma.
Although it sounds painful, glaucoma rarely causes any discomfort. For this reason, as well as the fact that no specific level of eye pressure is known to cause glaucoma, the disease often develops undiagnosed.
In some countries, glaucoma is treated with lasers. In the United States, however, the disease is usually treated with eye drops that reduce the amount of pressure build-up.
Diabetes and Glaucoma
The relationship between diabetes and open-angle glaucoma (the most common type of glaucoma), has intrigued researchers for years. People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop glaucoma as are non-diabetics, although some current research is beginning to call this into question.
Similarly, the likelihood of someone with open-angle glaucoma developing diabetes is higher than that of a person without the eye disease.
Neovascular glaucoma, a rare type of glaucoma, is always associated with other abnormalities, diabetes being the most common. In some cases of diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels on the retina are damaged. The retina manufactures new, abnormal blood vessels.
Neovascular glaucoma can occur if these new blood vessels grow on the iris (the colored part of the eye), closing off the fluid flow in the eye and raising the eye pressure. Neovascular glaucoma is a difficult disease to treat.
One option is laser surgery to reduce abnormal blood vessels on the iris and on the retinal surface. Recent studies have also shown some success with the use of drainage implants.
Is glaucoma linked with diabetes?
People with diabetic retinopathy have an increased risk of glaucoma.
This can happen if abnormal blood vessel growth, which can occur as a result of retinopathy, blocks the natural drainage of the eye.
What are the symptoms of glaucoma?
Glaucoma has very few symptoms in its early stage, so people may be unaware that something is wrong with them. As someone with diabetes, an optometrist or another eye specialist should test you for glaucoma at least once each year.
How is glaucoma diagnosed?
Glaucoma may be diagnosed by an optometrist by measuring your eye pressure, checking the eye at the optic nerve, and testing the field of your vision.
Experts will quickly be able to determine if you have glaucoma.
Eyesight Care Recommendations for People with Diabetes
If you have diabetes and experience severe pain, nausea, redness of the eye, blurred vision or any other problems with your eyesight, call your physician immediately or seek emergency care.
In addition, make sure your eyesight is properly screened with a dilated eye exam at least once a year by a qualified ophthalmologist or optometrist, as recommended by the National Eye Institute. If you can find one that specializes in diabetes eye health… even better.
Also, understand your risk. If you have diabetes, you already have an increased chance of developing glaucoma. This risk increases significantly depending on factors such as race (African-American, Native American, Latino), age (over 40) or a family history of glaucoma.
ork with the physician that monitors your diabetes, as well as an eye doctor that specializes in diabetes-related eyesight problems, if possible, to develop a personalized eye care plan if you have an increased risk.
In addition, you may want to consider adding a diabetes-related vitamin formulated specifically for eye health, such as the Ocuvite PreserVision vitamin or Nature Made Diabetes Health Pack.
Of course, learning that you have glaucoma can be difficult, especially because by the time it’s diagnosed, there is often some loss of eyesight. However, with prompt and proper treatment, blindness often can be avoided.
And remember — proactive management of your diabetes and eye health can help prevent loss of eyesight / blindness due to early diagnosis and treatment.
Protect Your Eyes
Since eye complications are common with diabetes, it is very important that people with diabetes get their eyes examined on a regular basis. The National Eye Institute recommends that people with diabetes get a dilated eye exam at least once a year.