Diabetes, like many medical conditions, can impact eye health and lead to multiple eye problems including diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma.

Having diabetes nearly doubles the risk of developing open-angle glaucoma, the most common type of glaucoma. The condition occurs when the fluids in the eye don’t drain properly causing eye pressure to build. This increased intraocular pressure eventually damages the optic nerve, causing vision loss.

Glaucoma is a slowly progressive disease and symptoms typically don’t occur in the early stages. The first sign of glaucoma is often loss of peripheral (side) vision. Without treatment, vision loss continues to advance, leading to tunnel vision and, eventually, blindness. Once the damage occurs, vision cannot be restored.

To identify glaucoma in the early stages, individuals with diabetes should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. Depending on your eye health, physical condition, and medical history, more frequent monitoring may be required.

If you’ve been diagnosed with glaucoma, there are a number of treatment options that can successfully prevent or slow the progression of the disease. When used regularly, prescription eye drops and oral medication are often very effective in lowering intraocular pressure. If glaucoma cannot be sufficiently controlled with medication, laser therapy or surgery is the next step.

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are increasing at alarming rates in this country, and the rising numbers pose a serious threat to eye health. A 2011 fact sheet from the American Diabetes Association lists diabetes as the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults aged 20-74 years.

In addition to scheduling regular eye exams, protect your vision from complications of diabetes by not smoking, maintaining proper blood glucose levels, controlling your blood pressure, and keeping fat and cholesterol levels within normal range. Partner with your ophthalmologist to keep your eyes healthy and prevent vision loss with early detection and treatment of eye disease.