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Diabetic Eye Care

Diabetic eye disease is a group of eye conditions that diabetics may face as a complication of diabetes. All can cause severe vision loss or even blindness. Diabetic eye disease includes the following:

  • Diabetic retinopathy – damage to the retina
  • Cataracts – patients with diabetes develop a clouding of the eye’s lens much earlier than people without diabetes
  • Glaucoma – advanced diabetic eye disease may result in very high eye pressure, which leads to optic nerve damage.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease and is a leading cause of blindness in the United States. Often there are no symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, but as the disease progresses, there may be fluid leakage or new blood vessels growing on to the retina.

How does diabetes cause vision loss?

There are two main ways that diabetes leads to vision loss. Fluid leaking into the macula causes blurred vision and swelling in the central macula. In more advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy, it is common for new, fragile blood vessels to grow on the retina. These blood vessels may rupture spontaneously and bleed into the eye, causing a sudden loss of vision. Fluctuating blood sugar levels can also cause temporary changes in vision.

Who is at risk for diabetic retinopathy?

Everyone with diabetes, both type I and II, is at risk for retinopathy. That’s why every diabetic needs an annual comprehensive eye examination. The longer that somebody has diabetes, the more likely it is that they will develop diabetic retinopathy. About 40% of patients diagnosed with diabetes will have some degree of diabetic retinopathy at the time of diagnosis and should have an eye exam.

How is diabetic retinopathy treated?

The most effective treatment for diabetic eye disease is very strict blood sugar control, which is achieved through diet, exercise, and medication under the supervision of a medical doctor. The macular swelling and new blood vessel growth that occur in the more advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy require special laser procedures to prevent progression of the disease and further vision loss. Very advanced cases of diabetic retinopathy may require specialized retinal surgery. Cataracts that develop may also require surgical treatment.