Diabetes affects more than 34 million adults in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted in its 2020 National Diabetes Statistics Report. The chronic condition—which the CDC says "affects how your body turns food into energy"—can easily go undiagnosed in its early stages. But if you're noticing this one issue with your eyes, it could mean your blood sugar levels are off and that you're developing diabetes. Keep reading to learn what you should be looking for when it comes to detecting diabetes.
If you have blurry vision, it could be an early symptom of diabetes.
Blurred vision is common in people who have uncontrolled diabetes, according to the health care company Kaiser Permanente. Specifically, blurred vision after eating is a cause for concern that should prompt a visit to a doctor, the experts at Verywell Health point out.
"Sudden high blood sugar following a meal can lead to blurry vision because the rapid increase in blood glucose causes an integral part of the eye, the lens, to swell," they explain. "The swelling is caused by fluid moving in and out of the eye, and leads to changes in the shape of the lens and therefore changes in eyesight."
According to the online health resource, regular vision can return once blood sugar levels reach normal levels and the lens shape goes back to its original size. But the effects of this blurry vision episode can take as little as a few days to approximately six weeks to subside.
If diabetes is uncontrolled, it can lead to serious vision problems.
"Diabetes is a condition expected to gradually progress over time. If type 2 diabetes goes untreated, the high blood sugar can affect various cells and organs in the body," endocrinologist Vidya Aluri, MD, of the UnityPoint Clinic Diabetes and Kidney Center, explained to LiveWell. "Complications include kidney damage, often leading to dialysis, eye damage, which could result in blindness, or an increased risk for heart disease or stroke."
When diabetes affects the eyes, retinopathy (a disease that leads to an abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina) can occur. According to Mayo Clinic, diabetic retinopathy can also lead to hemorrhaging in the back areas of the eyes, retinal detachment (which can lead to severe vision loss), glaucoma, and complete vision loss. Kaiser Permanente urges anyone who notices "sharp flashes of light" or things that look like cobwebs to seek immediate medical attention as it could signify a detached retina.
There are many other symptoms of diabetes to be aware of.
When blood sugar reaches a high level, people with untreated or undiagnosed type 2 diabetes can experience a variety of symptoms other than blurry vision, Aluri says. She explains that people can react with excessive thirst, frequent urination, extreme tiredness, repeat skin infections, and poor wound healing. Other symptoms of diabetes are unexplained weight loss, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, excessive dry skin, and increased hunger.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), people with type 1 diabetes, who produce no insulin, usually start to notice symptoms almost immediately because their condition is more severe. However, those with type 2 diabetes, who aren't producing enough insulin, normally have mild symptoms that go unnoticed for some time. "Some people do not find out they have the disease until they have diabetes-related health problems, such as blurred vision or heart trouble," the NIDDK explains.
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Controlling your blood sugar and getting regular eye exams is the best way to ensure diabetes doesn't affect your vision.
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, Kaiser Permanente suggests keeping your blood sugar levels in check and visiting your eye doctor on a regular basis to prevent the condition from doing permanent damage to your eyes. "If you were recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, then schedule an eye exam as soon as possible," the health care company notes. "If your exam shows no damage, then get a retinal eye exam every two years."