Glaucoma: One More Reason to Control Your Diabetes

Diabetes has a number of associated conditions and complications. Some of the most serious are eye diseases, among them, glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness in the United States. According to the American Diabetes Association, people who have diabetes are 40% more likely to suffer from glaucoma than non-diabetics. Also, a report from the Glaucoma Foundation states that there is a significant link between Type 2 diabetes and chronic open-angle glaucoma (COAG). Here's what you need to know if you are at greater risk for this eye condition.

What Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a class of eye diseases that can damage the optic nerve, resulting in varying degrees of vision loss. There are several types of glaucoma, but by far the most common type and the one usually referred to by the term glaucoma is chronic open-angle glaucoma. It is thought to be caused by increased pressure in the eye due to poor or blocked drainage of the aqueous humor in the eye. Gradually, the high pressure damages the optic nerve and blood vessels in the eye.

When the glaucoma is related to diabetes, the high blood sugar causes diabetic retinopathy, which can interfere with the drainage system of the eye. Pressure builds in the eye leading to glaucoma. The onset is very gradual, beginning with loss of side vision and progressing to blurring of the central vision.

Because symptoms are so slow to appear, by the time glaucoma is diagnosed, it has often done irreparable damage. That is why routine eye examinations are so important for those people suffering from Type 2 diabetes. There is no cure for glaucoma, although with proper treatment, further damage can be slowed or stopped.

Who Is Most at Risk and What Are the Symptoms?

Any one can get glaucoma, although it is most common in people over 60. It is more prevalent in African Americans and Mexican Americans than white Americans. People with Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or extreme nearsightedness are at higher risk for developing glaucoma. Also, if a parent or sibling has glaucoma, you are more likely to develop the condition.

Although many people notice no symptoms of glaucoma prior to being diagnosed by an optometrist, there are a few signs to watch for, including:

  • Headaches/migraines
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Halos or rainbows around bright lights

How Is Glaucoma Diagnosed and Treated?

Your optometrist or eye doctor will use a comprehensive dilated eye exam to determine whether you have glaucoma. He or she will use eye drops to dilate your eyes to get a good look at the inner eye and optic nerve. The doctor will also perform a tonometry test. This test shoots a quick puff of air onto the eye to detect elevated eye pressure, which can be a precursor for glaucoma.

Treatment depends on the type and severity of the glaucoma. Typically, treatment will consist of eye drops whose goal is to lower the pressure within the eye and slow or stop the progression of the damage. Drops must be given daily, and you should see your eye doctor every six months to determine the effectiveness of the treatment and change medications if necessary. If medications are not successful, your doctor may recommend surgery to help drain the aqueous humor from the eye and reduce pressure.

Can You Prevent Glaucoma?

Glaucoma can't be prevented, but through careful monitoring and regular visits to your optometrist, it can be controlled. If you have Type 2 diabetes, make sure you take measures to control blood sugar levels. Limit your intake of carbohydrates, get plenty of exercise, monitor your blood glucose levels, and if necessary, take diabetic medications to control blood sugar and reduce its effects on your eyes.

To learn more about eye treatment, contact companies like Northwest Ophthalmology.