Don’t Lose Sight of Diabetic Eye Disease

What is diabetic eye disease?
It is a group of eye problems that people may develop as a result of diabetes. All of these eye problems can lead to vision loss or blindness. Here are some of these eye problems:

  • Diabetic retinopathy—Causes harm to the blood vessels in the retina. The retina is the layer of tissue in the back of the eye that is sensitive to light.
  • Cataract—Causes your eye lens to get cloudy.
  • Glaucoma—Causes damage to the optic nerve that can lead to vision loss.

Who is most likely to get diabetic eye disease?
Anyone with diabetes (both type 1 and type2) can develop this disease. The presence of diabetic retinopathy strongly correlates with duration and severity of diabetes.

Which diabetic eye disease do most people get?
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common vascular complication of diabetes and remains a leading cause of visual impairment and legal blindness in working-age population. There are two types of diabetic retinopathy. The less severe form manifests with deposits of lipids and proteins in the retina (layer that is responsible for vision), dilated vessels (microaneurysms) and small hemorrhages. Subsequent—more severe—form manifests with growth of abnormal vessels (have tendency for bleeding), developing of scar tissue that can lead to retinal detachment and blindness.

What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?
Most of the time, the early stages of the disease don’t have any symptoms. As some blood vessels get weak and leak fluid or bleed, vision may start to blur. This symptomless progression is why regular eye examinations for people with diabetes are so important.

How do you know if you have it?
An eye care professional can tell if you have diabetic retinopathy by giving you a comprehensive dilated eye exam. During the exam, drops are placed in your eyes to widen, or dilate, the pupils. Then a special lens is used to look at the retina for damage to blood vessels. After the exam, your vision may be blurry for a period of hours.

How is diabetic retinopathy treated?
Laser eye surgery can close or shrink the new abnormal blood vessels that can leak blood into the eye and cause vision loss. It can also slow or stop the fluid leakage from retina vessels that can cause vision loss. Newer treatments include injections of drugs into the eye to prevent this leakage and this often leads to improved vision.

Can it be prevented?
People with diabetes can dramatically slow or prevent the development of this eye disease by keeping their blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol under control and having regular eye exams to check on the eye disease.

What are some other common eye diseases?
Cataract and glaucoma are other eye diseases that are more common in people with diabetes. They are two times more likely to get cataract and glaucoma than someone without diabetes. Cataract can be treated with surgery. Glaucoma can be treated with both surgery and medicines.

What can you do to protect your vision?
All people with diabetes should keep control of their blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol while continuing to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. Finding and treating the disease early, before it causes vision loss or blindness, is the best way to control diabetic eye disease.