Diabetes is one of the most common culprits of eye problems in the United States. Diabetes, which causes changes in blood vessels, can cause fluid to leak into the eye and can even induce inner-eye bleeding. This damage can eventually cause irreversible vision loss and blindness if not treated. Luckily, however, if caught early, diabetic eye disease can be treated with laser therapy. With proper check-ups, preventative care, and appropriate treatment, extensive damage can be avoided.
What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes in which the retina of the eye is damaged from diabetes. According to the National Institute of Health, diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness in the United States. Those who suffer from diabetes have high levels of blood sugar, a condition that can cause damage to blood vessels that supply the retina of the eye. The affected blood vessels can begin to leak, reducing the blood supply to the retina.
The Effects of Diabetes on the Eye
Decreased blood flow to the retina starves it of oxygen. As the disease advances, new blood vessels will grow, but they will be weak. These newer, weaker blood vessels often break and leak fluid into the retina’s center, called the macula, causing vision loss that can range from mild to quite severe. This stage of the disease is called proliferative diabetic retinopathy. At any stage of diabetic retinopathy, a swelling of the macula – the central part of the retina – can occur, a condition known as macular edema. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can result in permanent vision loss.
The Warning Signs of Diabetic Retinopathy
No symptoms are noticed early on, but as diabetic retinopathy progresses, loss of vision and blindness can result. As abnormal blood vessels leak fluid into the eye, the retina can swell, and vision often becomes blurred. However, it is possible that no symptoms at all will be noticed, even when considerable damage has already occurred.
Treating Diabetic Retinopathy
Laser surgery is the most common treatment for both macular edema (swelling of the retina) and proliferative diabetic retinopathy. The laser seals the leaking blood vessels and stops their growth. This treatment improves vision and prevents further vision loss by helping reduce swelling of the retina and inhibiting new blood vessel formation in the retina. This in-office procedure can be done in less than 30 minutes and is painless.
Sometimes, a vitrectomy is performed to treat an unabsorbed intraocular hemorrhage. During this procedure, blood and the vitreous humor – the natural, gel-like substance within the eyeball – is removed and replaced with air or other gases, which keeps the retina in place. More vitreous humor forms naturally, gradually replacing the air that was introduced.
Prevention of Diabetic Retinopathy
The damaging effects of diabetic retinopathy can be avoided or mitigated with an annual comprehensive eye examination by an optometrist. In addition, diabetics are strongly encouraged to see their eye doctor at least yearly for a dilated fundoscopic exam to check for signs of diabetic retinopathy. Early detection and treatment are crucial elements of protecting your eyesight. For more information about diabetic retinopathy, please contact CV Optometry today.