Diabetes and Glaucoma

Sesame Street plays a major role in preschoolers learning letters, numbers and colors, as well as opposites. Remember Grover playing “Near and Far”? Another way to teach association was the song, “One of These Things is Not Like the Other.” Bob and Susan used to sing it to help Grover understand which one “just doesn’t belong.”

When it comes to diseases like glaucoma, cataracts and diabetes, which one just doesn’t seem to belong? You would probably choose diabetes because the other two diseases are eye diseases and diabetes has nothing to do with the eyes. However, you would be incorrect. All three diseases are related to the eyes.

Diabetes’ Link to Glaucoma

Diabetes can actually be a precursor to glaucoma, which may sound surprising. How can a metabolic disease affect vision? Diabetes weakens blood vessels within the body, including vessels in the retina, and this is known as diabetic retinopathy. This retinal condition has two stages: nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy and proliferative retinopathy.

Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy involves weakened blood vessels leaking blood and fluid into the retinal area. This causes blurred vision. As the condition worsens, proliferative diabetic retinopathy develops when retinal vessels close up and new, abnormal vessels form. If proliferative diabetic retinopathy is not treated, it can cause detachment of the retina and vision loss.

Another result of accumulation of fluid and neovascular growth is increased eye pressure. Additional fluid can place stress on the optic nerve, and new vessel growth can block the flow of fluid out of the eye. Elevated eye pressure causes an eye condition called glaucoma, a family of diseases that affect the optic nerve. Hypertension in the eye damages the optic nerve and can cause permanent vision loss and blindness, so diabetes and glaucoma are inextricably connected.

Do all Diabetics Develop Glaucoma?

Not all diabetics develop glaucoma, but diabetics are twice as likely to develop glaucoma. Currently, there is no cure for glaucoma, and the only way to prevent vision loss due to glaucoma is to detect the disease early. Regular comprehensive eye exams are key because glaucoma usually develops in the absence of pain or symptoms. The best way to detect glaucoma is to perform a pressure test called tonometry. An elevated pressure reading would alert an eye care professional to perform additional tests for an accurate diagnosis.

Control Lifestyle Habits

When it comes to diabetes, there are some risk factors that are beyond your control. Age, family history and ethnicity cannot be changed, but you can commit to living a healthy lifestyle and scheduling regular comprehensive eye exams. The combination of physical exercise, a balanced diet, a reasonable weight, and routine check-ups with your primary care physician and eye care specialist will help prevent diabetes and protect you from developing glaucoma.

If you have diabetes or glaucoma or both diseases, make a promise to yourself to make your health a priority in 2016. Schedule eye exams as directed, and visit your doctor to set goals for body weight and physical activity. If you are ever tempted to think that “One of These Things [Will Not Affect] the Other,” think again. Conditions and diseases affect more systems and areas of our bodies than we can comprehend, so we are wise to commit to good health!