Why is glaucoma more common in diabetes?

  • December 15, 2021
  • Glaucoma

Why is glaucoma more common in diabetes?

Glaucoma is one of the most common eye conditions, affecting up to 1 in 8 Australians by age 80. However, not everyone is affected equally. Some patients – particularly those with diabetes – are at higher risk of developing it than others.

To understand why this is the case, we need to understand how glaucoma typically develops and how diabetes can affect the eyes.

How glaucoma develops normally

Glaucoma is not a single disease. The name refers to a group of eye conditions which can damage the optic nerve and lead to blindness. This damage can occur when the eye’s natural drainage system becomes blocked.

When fluid cannot leave the eye, it can build up and increase the eye’s internal pressure. This places extra stress on the optic nerve and can damage it, resulting in permanent vision loss. A variety of factors can influence this, including smoking and normal ageing.

The two main types are open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. People with diabetes are at particular risk of open-angle glaucoma, which can develop over a long period and may be exacerbated by some of diabetes’ effects.

What happens in diabetic patients?

Diabetic patients are at much higher risk of developing many eye conditions, including diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy may increase the risk of developing glaucoma as it damages the blood vessels inside the eye. This sometimes causes new blood vessels to develop in the eye, potentially growing over the eye’s drainage system and blocking it. This is known as neovascular glaucoma.

Other studies point to high blood sugar itself as a direct cause. High blood sugar may influence the production of the protein fibronectin, which can accumulate in the eye’s natural drainage system and damage it.

How do I prevent glaucoma?

If you suffer from diabetes, the simplest way to prevent glaucoma is with regular eye check-ups. A dilated eye exam at least once a year can allow your ophthalmologist to spot concerns and address potential vision loss before it occurs.

Managing your blood sugar levels is also essential to preventing damage. High blood sugar on its own does not usually cause damage in the short-term: It’s not uncommon to experience blurred vision for a few days or weeks after adjusting your diabetic care plan or medications, as changing glucose levels can cause temporary swelling in the eye’s tissues. However, high glucose levels over long periods can damage the eye’s blood vessels and needs to be avoided through medical management.

At Coastal Eye Surgeons, we have a wealth of experience and treatment options available to help manage diabetic eye disease and prevent lasting vision loss. We can work together with your GP and endocrinologist to tailor a management plan which works best for your eyes.

Seeking help

Glaucoma is sight-threatening, but it’s well understood and prompt treatment can go a long way in saving sight. If you think you may be affected, it’s critical to see your eye doctor straight away to start treatment.

Located on Hope Island (near the Gold Coast), Coastal Eye Surgeons is experienced in diagnosing and treating glaucoma and can provide a range of options.

You can learn more about how the eye works, glaucoma, and how it’s treated by following the links below

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