In the United States, more than 30 million individuals have diabetes. Both types of diabetes—type 1 and type 2—affect your body’s ability to use blood glucose, or blood sugar, for energy. Due to a variety of factors, African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely to be diagnosed with this disease. Diabetes complications can occur in any person living with the condition. For many minorities, these complications include diabetic eye disease, which may lead to severe vision loss and even blindness. However, it’s possible to protect your sight and limit the damage diabetes causes to your eyes. Diabetic Eye Diseases Diabetic eye disease actually encompasses a group of medical conditions affecting your eyes. While anyone with diabetes may develop vision complications, minorities, including African-Americans and Hispanics, are 2 to 3 times more likely than Caucasians to do so. This may be due to lack of access to care, delayed diagnoses, co-existing conditions like high blood pressure, and poor education. Experts believe there may also be a genetic component raising this risk, as well. Diabetic eye diseases include: Diabetic retinopathy: High blood sugar damages blood vessels located in the retina, a layer of specialized cells in the back of each eye that forms a visual image of what’s in front of you. Diabetic macular edema (DME): In many cases, fluid leakage from diabetic retinopathy progresses into DME, which causes swelling of the macula, a layer of cells near the center of the retina that helps you see details in objects. Glaucoma: This group of conditions damage the eye’s optic nerve, which connects each of your eyes to your brain. Cataracts: Many minorities with diabetes develop cataracts, worsening vision as the lens of each eye becomes cloudy. It’s estimated that diabetic retinopathy will affect over 1 million African-Americans by 2030. And studies have found Latino-Americans develop visual impairment and blindness at the highest rate of any ethnic group in the country. Additionally, minorities with diabetes are twice as likely to develop glaucoma, and two to five times more likely to develop cataracts. Watching for Symptoms Unfortunately, there are usually no symptoms in the early stages of diabetic eye disease. But over time, as high levels of blood sugar damage your eyes, you may notice symptoms. These may include: Dark areas in your visual field Flashes of light in your vision Frequent changes to how well you see Poor color vision Spots or strings in your visual field (floaters) Wavy or blurry vision Left untreated, diabetic eye disease may eventually cause total blindness. It’s important to contact your doctor immediately if you notice any changes to your vision. Diabetic Eye Disease Treatments If you’re diagnosed with diabetic eye disease, you have several treatment options for improving your vision or stopping the progression of the disease. Your doctor will recommend treatments based on your exact diagnosis, overall health, and goals for therapy. For some people, medications like corticosteroids are enough to help control symptoms. For others, more intensive interventions, like laser eye surgery, are necessary to improve vision. For those with diabetic retinopathy or DME, new eye injections, called anti-VEGF shots, can effectively restore vision and help the eye to heal. Protecting Your Vision Protecting your vision starts with getting your diabetes under control. If you live with unmanaged diabetes, working with your doctor is the best way to develop a plan for controlling blood sugar levels. Beyond controlling your blood sugar, it’s important to monitor your eye health regularly. Yearly comprehensive dilated eye examinations help your doctor detect eye changes early so that treatment can begin sooner. You can also help maintain your eye health with lifestyle changes, including: Eating a nutritious diet Maintaining a healthy weight Quitting smoking Wearing protective eyewear, including sunglasses when outside Even though minorities are at higher risk for diabetic eye diseases, you can still take charge of your health and keep your eyes as healthy as possible. Your doctor can help you control your diabetes and maintain healthy blood sugar levels, which may help prevent damage to your eyes. And if you notice any vision changes, be sure to let your doctor know immediately. Early detection of diabetic complications is key to preventing further damage and maintaining your vision.