People with Diabetes – You Don’t Have to Lose Your Vision!

What is Diabetic Eye Disease?

Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye problems that people with diabetes have as a complication of diabetes. Over a period of time, the high blood sugar levels in diabetics prevent their eyes from receiving the proper nutrients it needs to maintain good vision.

Diabetic eye disease may include diabetic retinopathy, which is damage to the blood vessels and the retina. The retina is the back part of the eye that gives us sight and is therefore extremely important. A cataract may form, which will cause clouding of the lens that is inside the eye. Glaucoma can also occur from an increase of fluid pressure inside the eye, which eventually leads to nerve damage in the eye.

If left untreated, each of the diabetic eye diseases can cause severe vision loss or even blindness.


What is the Most Common Diabetic Eye Disease?


Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease, and it is the leading cause of blindness in American adults between the ages of 20 and 74. It is also the most preventable! The National Eye Institute estimates that 40-45% of diabetics are affected by diabetic retinopathy and 24,000 diabetics go blind each year. The longer someone has diabetes, the more likely they are to get diabetic retinopathy.

What Happens If Diabetic Retinopathy is Not Treated?

Untreated diabetic retinopathy can lead to macula edema, background retinopathy or a retinal detachment. The macula is the central part of the retina that allows the eye to see details like reading. Macular edema occurs when the tiny blood vessels begin to leak fluid into this area, which might be noticed as blurred vision in the early stages. Blindness occurs in the later stages. Background retinopathy is an early stage of leaking and broken blood vessels throughout the retina that can lead to advanced retinopathy. Retinal detachment can be caused by diabetes when scar tissue pulls on the retina, causing it to separate from the back of the eye. This is a serious problem and requires immediate surgery. Even then, the results are not certain.

What Are the Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy?

There are often no early symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, and symptoms may not be noticed until the condition is severe. There is no pain to act as a warning for these problems. Sometimes general blurriness may be the only sign and this is often confused by the patient with needing new glasses. More than any other common medical condition, diabetic patients need an eye exam every year.

Yearly exams should be started at the very first diagnosis of diabetes. Follow the slogan: “Check Yearly, See Clearly.”

How is Diabetic Retinopathy Diagnosed?

An optometrist or ophthalmologist can conduct a thorough eye exam, which includes pupil dilation, to look for any changes in blood vessels, new blood vessel growth, swelling of the retina, and retinal detachment. Some offices are equipped with a special camera to photograph and detect early signs of retinopathy. The photographs are taken digitally for the highest resolution, and only takes minutes after the eye exam is over.

How is Diabetic Retinopathy Treated?

The best treatment of diabetic retinopathy is laser surgery. A special type of laser is used to seal leaking blood vessels or shrink abnormal-sized vessels. This is often effective in preventing vision loss if it is performed before the retina has been severely damaged. Laser surgery cannot restore vision already lost. It does prevent further loss of vision in some patients. Here again, early detection is the main objective.

Patients with signs of diabetic eye disease are returned to their primary care physician for better management of their diabetes. This may include stronger medicines, more exercise and a stricter diet. Patients need to assume more responsibility for their condition before a tragic loss of vision occurs.

Prevention is the key for all diabetics. Get your annual eye exam to determine early signs of problems. Vision loss is rarely reversible. Don’t wait until you can’t work or read, or lose your driver’s license to get serious about this disease. Don’t neglect your eyesight. Call for your professional eye exam today.