We all know taking care of our health is important, but when it comes to eye health, it’s sometimes overlooked. In fact, according to the National Poll on Healthy Aging from the University of Michigan, only 42% of 50- to 80-year-old respondents said their primary care doctor asked about their vision at a routine check-up. Additionally, 10% of older adults hadn’t had an eye exam in over three years. This is significant because vision problems tend to increase with age, especially if certain medical conditions like diabetes are present. But with proper diagnosis and treatment of eye conditions, many complications like permanent vision loss can be avoided. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common diabetic and age-related vision problems and why treatment is so important. Diabetic Retinopathy and Diabetic Macular Edema Over time, high blood sugar levels caused by uncontrolled diabetes can affect the blood vessels in your retina. Metabolic changes caused by chronic elevated blood glucose levels can damage the tiny blood vessels in the eye. This is called diabetic retinopathy. The vessels can leak fluid into the retina, and in more advanced cases, new blood vessels may form that can further damage the retina. These new vessels are prone to leak and bleed. Diabetic retinopathy can be asymptomatic in the beginning. Later on, symptoms include: Blurred vision “Floaters,” spots or streaks in your vision Changes in ability to see color Blank spots in your visual field You can help slow the progression of early diabetic retinopathy by treating your diabetes as directed by your doctor and maintaining good control of your blood sugar. This means eating a healthy diet, staying active, monitoring your blood glucose regularly, and taking any diabetes medication, like insulin, according to your treatment plan. Diabetic retinopathy can advance to diabetic macular edema if fluid builds up in the macula. Your macula is the central region of the retina of your eye. It’s responsible for your critical vision and allows you to see things in precise detail. Diabetic macular edema is the most common cause of vision loss for people with diabetes, especially if treatment is delayed. Treatment for diabetic macular edema includes the use of lasers to shrink abnormal blood vessels and decrease the leakage of blood and fluid into your eye. Additionally, your doctor may perform injections of anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF). These monthly injections, which include aflibercept (Eylea) and ranibizumab (Lucentis), block a protein that stimulates new blood vessel growth, helping to prevent further vision loss. Age-Related Macular Degeneration As you get older, the cells of your macula can start to degenerate. Initially, your vision may not be affected, but as it progresses, you may notice a blurry area in the center of your vision. In later stages of macular degeneration, you can develop a blind spot in the middle of your visual field. Macular degeneration is the number one cause of vision loss in the United States. There are two types: Dry age-related macular degeneration: This accounts for approximately 85-90% of macular degeneration cases. Small deposits, called drusen, develop under the macula and signal retinal deterioration. Your eye doctor can detect the presence of drusen during an eye exam. Wet age-related macular degeneration: A smaller number of people suffer from this type of macular degeneration, but it’s a more significant form of the disease. With the “wet” type, blood vessels grow under the retina and macula. They can leak fluid or blood, causing damage to the macula. Vision changes can occur quickly. Though there is no cure for macular degeneration, treatment can help slow its progression. Studies suggest that certain vitamins supplements may be helpful for dry macular degeneration, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, copper, lutein, and zeaxanthin. For wet age-related macular degeneration, anti-VEGF injections may be used. Laser surgery is another treatment that may slow the growth of or destroy abnormal blood vessels in the eye. Glaucoma The risk of developing glaucoma increases as you age, and it occurs with even greater frequency in diabetics. Glaucoma damages your optic nerve, usually due to the build-up of fluid and pressure in your eye. It’s usually painless, and in the beginning, you may not have any changes to your vision. You may not even be aware that you have glaucoma until your optic nerve is significantly affected. However, your doctor can detect glaucoma with a special eye exam. Glaucoma can lead to permanent blindness if not treated properly, but with medication and surgery, you can prevent further vision damage. Special eye drops are often prescribed to reduce the amount of fluid and pressure in your eye. Surgery can be performed with lasers or via traditional methods to help fluid better drain out of your eye, lowering the amount of eye pressure. So what should you keep in mind when it comes to your vision health? First, a complete eye exam can often diagnose eye conditions even before you experience any symptoms. Second, vision problems that result from such eye conditions generally can’t be corrected, but treatment can help prevent it from getting worse. So, as you get older (and especially if you have diabetes), be sure to schedule regular eye exams to allow your eye doctor to catch any problems in their earliest and most treatable stages.