Among the many challenges faced by you and other diabetics, is protecting yourself from vision loss due to Diabetic Retinopathy.
Diabetes is the number one cause of reversible vision loss in the U.S. It contributes to as many as 5,000 cases of legal blindness each year.
And, the longer you have diabetes, the more likely you are to develop Diabetic Retinopathy.
Although other eye diseases such as Cataracts and Glaucoma are also commonly seen in diabetics, Diabetic Retinopathy is the most common, and a leading cause of blindness in the U.S.
What It Is
While the entire eye is vulnerable to injury, the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the inner eye, known as the retina, is especially sensitive to damage in diabetics.
- Its job is to detect light and color and to send information to the brain that is put together into an image.
Changes in the blood vessels of the retina can lead to Retinopathy.
- In some people, blood vessels in the retina may swell and leak fluid.
- In others, new, abnormal blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina.
Either of these changes can result in severe vision loss or blindness.
Fortunately, diabetic eye diseases can often be treated before vision loss occurs, making a yearly eye exam absolutely necessary for diabetics.
Damage to the retina, known as “retinopathy,” is especially common among people with uncontrolled blood glucose levels and people who have had diabetes for many years.
However, not everyone with retinopathy will experience vision loss.
The problem is that advanced eye diseases can sometimes develop without any noticeable symptoms. That’s why early diagnosis and prompt treatment are the keys to preventing serious eye damage in the future.
Being well informed about Diabetic Retinopathy may save your eyesight. And, while you may not be able to completely avoid it, you can reduce your risk of developing it.
Risk Factors for Diabetic Retinopathy
- All diabetics are at risk for Diabetic Retinopathy. The longer you’ve been a diabetic, the higher the risk.
Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy
It’s possible to have no symptoms in the early stages. As the disease progresses, you may experience:
- Fluctuations in vision quality
- Difficulty seeing at night
- Blurry or double vision
- Dark spots or “floaters” when you look at things
- Rings around objects, flashing lights, or blank spots in your vision, seeing shadows
- Pain and/or pressure in one or both eyes
- A condition called macular edema may also occur as a result of Diabetic Retinopathy.
It happens when the macula swells up from leaking fluid, causing blurred vision.
The macula is responsible for your pinpoint vision, allowing you to read, sew or recognize faces.
- Bleeding (hemorrhage) into the eye itself may also happen when new vessels grow on the surface of the retina, decreasing vision significantly.
Diagnosing Diabetic Retinopathy
Along with taking a complete medical history and providing a full eye exam, the following tests may be done by your eye care professional to diagnose Diabetic Retinopathy.
Visual Acuity Test
- This is the common eye chart test. It measures your vision at various distances.
- This is a standard test given to determine the pressure (intraocular pressure) inside the eye.
- For a close-up exam of the eye’s lens and retina, the pupil is widened with eye drops.
- This is a test in which the doctor looks very closely at the retina using a special magnifying glass.
- In this test, a dye (Fluorescein) is injected into the bloodstream. The dye helps the blood vessels in the eye show up while pictures are taken with a special camera. This test lets the doctor see if the blood vessels are leaking.
Optical Coherence Tomography
- In this test, light waves are used to make detailed images of the retina.
Treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy
Your eye doctor will choose the best treatment based on:
- Your age
- Your overall health and medical history
- How well you can handle specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- Your opinion or preference
Even with advanced retinopathy, most people have a good chance of saving their vision if they seek treatment before the retina becomes severely damaged.
Treatment may include:
- Laser surgery
This is often used to treat macular edema, which is a build-up of fluid in the macula, an area in the center of the retina.
- The macula is the part of the retina responsible for sharp, straight-ahead vision. Fluid buildup causes the macula to swell and thicken, which distorts vision.
Laser surgery is also used to treat proliferative retinopathy. This is a disorder where new, small blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina and can bleed.
The procedure involves shrinking the abnormal blood vessels or sealing the leaking ones.
This is a procedure that involves removing the cloudy jelly-like substance that fills the center of the eye and replacing it with a saline solution.
Certain chemicals can be injected into the eye to decrease the growth of the abnormal vessels of the retina.
Steroid injections are sometimes used to treat severe cases that do not respond to laser therapy.
Although you can’t prevent diabetic retinopathy, you can reduce the risk of it developing by having a dilated eye exam once a year.
While an eye exam does not prevent retinopathy, it can help diagnose existing eye problems that can then be treated.
- The exam can also alert you and your healthcare professional if your Diabetes needs to be better controlled.
Diabetics can reduce their risk of retinopathy, and slow the progression of existing eye disease. But it always comes down to the basics of good Diabetes management. They don’t change.
- Test blood sugar (glucose) regularly. Use the results to manage your blood sugar carefully.
- Test your urine for ketone levels regularly
- Control high blood pressure.
- Eat a healthy, diabetes-friendly diet, focusing on low-glycemic foods. Click the links below for more information:
- Take your medicines as directed.
- Use insulin, if needed, as directed.
- Exercise to lower your blood sugar and help your body use it correctly
- Seek treatment for anemia, atherosclerosis, and kidney disease.
- Schedule regular healthcare follow-up visits to evaluate diabetes control and rule out or treat other risk factors, such as high blood pressure.
Better control of blood sugar slows the onset and progression of retinopathy and lessens the need for laser surgery for severe retinopathy.
Managing your Diabetes correctly is the key to surviving it, preventing serious complications such as heart disease and strokes and saving your vision.