Diabetes is a chronic condition that causes problems for the entire body. Most commonly, it affects small blood vessels located in many organs. One of the main ways that diabetes affects the eye is called diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common eye problem that stems from diabetes. Changes and damage to the blood vessels in the retina cause leakage of blood, swelling, and microaneurysms to occur. These changes can easily be seen during your eye exam. The advanced form of diabetic retinopathy is seen as new blood vessels abnormally growing where they should not be. This is one of the leading causes of blindness in America today.
Diabetes can also lead to other eye problems. People who have diabetes tend to develop cataracts at an earlier age. Also, people with diabetes may be more likely to develop glaucoma, where the pressure in the eye can cause damage to the optic nerve.
Who is at risk?
Anyone who has diabetes, whether type 1 or type 2, is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Also, the longer you have the disease, the more likely you are to develop changes in the retina from it. It is estimated that between 40 and 45% of people diagnosed with diabetes have some sort of change in their eye from the disease. This is why it is strongly recommended that all diabetics have a thorough eye exam every year.
What are the symptoms?
Often, there are no symptoms to early changes from diabetes in the eye. In fact, your eye doctor may recommend treatment for the retina even if you are not having any vision loss from the disease. As the disease progresses you may notice blurred vision or loss of vision. In the advanced form of the disease you may notice a few spots in the vision from blood that is leaking into the eye. As the bleeding worsens, it is possible to have part or all of your vision blocked from the blood. If you notice any of theses changes in your vision, you need to have an eye exam right away to prevent permanent vision loss.
What is the treatment?
Early in the development of diabetic retinopathy there is no treatment needed. You will be encouraged to maintain control of the levels of blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. If there is swelling in the macula or around the macula your doctor may recommend a laser treatment. This helps to slow the leakage of fluid as well as lessen the amount of fluid that is in the retina. It is also possible to reduce the swelling in the retina with an injection of a medication into the eye. This works best when initiated early in the process and helps to not only decrease the swelling but often improves the vision as well.
The more advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy, where abnormal blood vessels are growing on the surface of the retina, is treated with a laser as well. This laser causes the abnormal blood vessels to shrink and reduces or stops the bleeding associated with them. If there is a lot of bleeding preventing a view of the retina and laser treatment is not possible it may be necessary to have an operation to remove the blood from the eye prior to having the laser treatment.
Is there anything I can do to prevent this disease?
The best thing that you can do to prevent diabetic retinopathy is have tight control of your blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, even with good blood sugar control it is possible to develop diabetic retinopathy so it is strongly recommended that you have regular eye exams to monitor for changes that may occur. You would rather your eye doctor find the changes before they are causing you any vision loss. Timely diagnosis and treatment of diabetic retinopathy may reduce your risk of blindness but up to 95%.
If you have diabetes or are noticing any of the vision changes discussed here you need to make an appointment for an eye exam today!
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