Nearly 30 million people in the US have diabetes, according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control). It is widely known that diabetes affects the blood vessels and nerves of the body. However, what people often are not aware of is the damage it can cause to the eyes.
For the eyes, the damage to blood vessels and nerves can mean serious problems –diabetes is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in Americans under age 65. While blindness is clearly the largest concern, diabetes can also damage the eyes in a number of other ways.
Diabetes can cause the blood vessels in the retina of the eye to swell or leak, which leads to a serious condition called diabetic retinopathy. This is the most common diabetic eye problem. The swelling of these vessels causes the retina to become deformed, resulting in blurred vision. The change in vision can be temporary or permanent, and can range from severe to minor eyesight impairment. The effects depend upon the type and location of damage to the retina.
The National Eye Institute divides diabetic retinopathy into 4 distinct stages:
- Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy: This is the earliest stage in which light swelling occurs in the smallest blood vessels of the eye.
- Moderate Nonproliferative Retinopathy: If progressed to this stage, some of the swollen blood vessels will be blocked, denying nutrients to the retina.
- Severe Nonproliferative Retinopathy: This is the most serious nonproliferative stage in which severe swelling denies blood supply to the retina, greatly affecting vision and causing the body to grow new blood vessels to try to compensate
- Proliferative Retinopathy: In this most advanced stage of retinopathy, the eye has grown new blood vessels in an attempt to restore blood flow to the retina. However, the new blood vessels are weak and leak easily, causing leakage of blood that can lead to severe vision damage or blindness.
Macular edema can occur in conjunction with diabetic retinopathy, often in the more progressive stages. In this condition, fluid can leak from the blood vessels into the macula, a small part at the center of the retina that is responsible for detailed vision. The excess fluid there causes edema, or swelling of the macula, and leads to vision impairment.
Diabetics are twice as likely to develop glaucoma because of their disease. Glaucoma is the damage of nerves in the eye that has lead to swelling within the eye. The result is a gradual loss of vision. Diabetics are also more likely to develop cataracts, or the clouding of the lense of the eye. Both of these conditions are serious and can result in blindness if not detected and treated properly.
Symptoms of Diabetic Eye Conditions
Diabetic eye disease is a serious problem with serious risks. Many of the conditions often have no symptoms until damage has already been done. Common symptoms in diabetics include:
- Blurred or double vision
- Seeing spots, streaks or flashing lights
- Blind spots.
Diabetics should be mindful of any change in vision or eyesight and report these changes to their doctor right away.
Detection and Treatment Options
Receiving a medical exam once a year is the best way to prevent, diagnose, and treat a diabetic eye condition.
An eye care professional will give drops to dilate the pupils, allowing for a thorough exam of the retina to check for Diabetic Retinopathy. A large light called a slit lamp will be used on the eyes to help check for cataracts.
Tonometry will be used to measure the pressure inside the eye and screen for glaucoma. Other tests will also be conducted to check visual acuity and the visual field. Diabetic Retinopathy is most often treated with highly-effective laser surgery. Other diabetic eye conditions may also be treated with surgery, or more commonly, with oral medications and eye drops.
Prevention is the Best Medicine
Early detection is vital, and at Advanced Eye Medical, our experienced and knowledgeable ophthalmologists can provide comprehensive and convenient care for diabetic eye care concerns. Call (866) 997-2020 today to schedule your eye exam.