Man in a bowtie

Diabetes is a disease that affects the body’s ability to produce or use insulin effectively to control blood sugar (glucose) levels. Although glucose is an important source of energy for the body’s cells, too much glucose in the blood for a long time can cause damage in many parts of the body, including the heart, kidneys, blood vessels and the small blood vessels in the eyes.

Diabetes can affect an individual’s eyesight in many different ways. Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease and a leading cause of blindness in American adults. It is caused when high blood sugar levels cause damage to blood vessels in the retina. These blood vessels can swell, leak or close, stopping blood from passing through. Sometimes abnormal new blood vessels grow on the retina. Diabetic retinopathy usually has no early warning signs and can be detected only through a comprehensive eye examination that looks for early signs of the disease.

As diabetic retinopathy gets worse, individuals will notice symptoms, such as:

  • seeing an increasing number of floaters,
  • having blurry vision,
  • having vision that changes sometimes from blurry to clear,
  • seeing blank or dark areas in your field of vision,
  • having poor night vision, and
  • noticing colors appear faded or washed out losing vision.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 90 percent of diabetes-related vision loss can be prevented, but early detection is key. People with diabetes should get annual eye exams even before they have signs of vision loss. However, studies show that sixty percent of diabetics are not getting the exams their doctors recommend.

Patients with diabetes who successfully manage their blood sugar levels will help to prevent the onset of diabetic retinopathy. To help control diabetes, individuals should:

  • eat a healthy and balanced diet
  • participate in regular exercise
  • maintain a healthy body weight
  • quit smoking
  • limit alcohol consumption
  • attend regular screenings

National Diabetes Awareness Month is observed every November to draw attention to diabetes and its effects on millions of Americans. Great Plains Quality Innovations Network (QIN) partners with healthcare professionals and communities across the four-state region to promote opportunities for diabetes self-management education and offers resources on the Great Plains QIN Everyone with Diabetes Counts web site.