Chronic illnesses worsen the condition of eye problems

It is Diabetic Eye Disease Month, but That Is Not the OnIy illness That Predisposes People to Eye Problems

Chronic conditions can cause eye symptoms, such as dry eye, damaged blood vessels and blindness. Many eye problems are preventable and treatable.

Jacqueline Gattengo, a Smart Vision Optometrist at Eyes InDesign Bondi, explains common illnesses that cause many eye problems.


People with diabetes often have problems with the blood vessels in their body, and the eye is no exception. Diabetes causes many complications, including Diabetic Retinopathy (DR).

DR is caused by the onset of diabetes. “High blood sugar and high blood pressure levels can damage the blood vessels in the back of the eye, that supply blood to the retina,” says Jacquie. A lack of blood supply can affect vision and cause permanent blindness. DR can be prevented by regulating blood sugar and blood pressure levels.

High blood sugar levels increase the risk of dry eyes. “Dry eye causes significant eye discomfort and impaired vision,” says Jacquie. The symptoms include redness, a scratchy sensation of the eye, and blurry vision. The cause of dry eye is typically a lack of tears to keep the eye moist and healthy.

People with diabetes are also at higher risk of developing cataracts and glaucoma.

Nutritional deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency can cause severe dry eye and lead to ulcers of the cornea. A lack of vitamins can increase the risk of developing cataracts.  

“Cataracts are caused by the build-up of protein which clouds the lens of the eye, causing blurry vision and blindness,” says Jacquie. If left untreated, this condition will worsen and lead to blindness.

Jacquie says, “cataracts can also be caused by diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure and a history of cataracts in blood relatives.” 

“Many people are not aware of the effects of smoking on their vision,” says Jacquie. Smoking is associated with many health problems, including eye health. Smoking contributes to cataracts by “altering the cell of the lens through oxidation,” says Jacquie, and the “heavy metal like cadmium accumulates in the lens.”

Regular eye examinations are important to “test, diagnose and treat eye deficiency before they become progressively worse,” says Jacquie. Cataracts are more prominent in people who are diabetic. Therefore, it is important to “maintain high and low blood sugar levels,” says Jacquie.

Corneal Ulcer

A cornea ulcer is a common eye condition that is often caused by bacterial infections. This causes an ulcer to form in the front part of the eye.  People with “vitamin A deficiency and those who wear contact lenses are at a higher risk of cornea ulcers,” says Jacquie, as infectious agents are trapped behind the lens.

Jacquie identifies symptoms of cornea ulcer that include, “pain, intense redness, a scratchy sensation of the eye, light sensitivity and blurred vision.”

If you suspect you have a cornea ulcer, visit your local Smart Vision Optometry for an eye examination.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure can cause a change in the retina as it damages the blood vessels that supply the eye.

Controlling high blood pressure levels is fundamental for the vision of the eyes. “The longer the blood pressure levels remain high, the more an individual is at risk of having permanent eye damage,” says Jacquie.

High blood pressure may be diagnosed during a regular eye examination.

Autoimmune disease

Autoimmune disease is a condition whereby the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells of the body. The autoimmune attack causes inflammation of the optic nerve that damages the eye and affects vision.

People with autoimmune disease experience common symptoms such as “dry, red and itchy eyes, light sensitivity, eye pain, and change in vision,” says Jacquie. Treating the autoimmune disease will help control eye problems caused by the condition.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis, a collagen vascular disease, increases the risk of dry eye, as infections with bacteria or viruses affect the eye.

This condition can be treated with eye drops

Infectious diseases

Infections can affect the condition of the eye as well as one’s eyesight. Pink eye or conjunctivitis is a common form of eye infection. Common symptoms include redness and swelling of the eyelids and eye pain.


Trachoma begins with a bacterial infection, similarly to conjunctivitis (pink-eye), and can be easily treated.

However, if the condition is left untreated, “the condition will worsen as it causes scarring to the eyelid that pulls the eyelashes inwards,” says Jacquie. This causes tremendous pain as every blink scrapes the eye.

Advanced trachoma is called trichiasis, which occurs when the eye is inflamed. “Scar tissue builds up inside the eyelid, making the eyelid tight, pulling the eyelashes inward,” explains Jacquie.

Symptoms of trachoma include discharge from the eye, irritated eyes and redness. This causes immense pain as the eyelashes scrape against the cornea. This can lead to blindness.

Trachoma can be treated with cleanliness and hygiene, regularly wash your bedding, clothes and face to prevent infection.

It is important to be aware of other diseases that affect the eye, as if left untreated and undiagnosed, it can result in permanent blindness and vision impairment.

Smart Vision Optometry clinics are located in Sydney. Book a Smart Vision Comprehensive Vision Skills Assessment or Advanced Eye Health Test for any child or adult by calling the Bondi clinic (02) 9365 5047 or the Mosman clinic (02) 9969 1600, alternatively book an appointment online.

Written and syndicated by: YDMA News, YDMA Group

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