Diabetes is a condition that can interfere with the body’s ability to use and store sugar. Diabetes can also, over time, weaken and cause changes in the small blood vessels that nourish the eye’s light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye where images are focused. When this condition occurs, it is called diabetic retinopathy. These changes may include leaking of blood, development of brush-like branches of the vessels, and enlargement of certain portions of these vessels. Diabetic retinopathy can seriously affect vision and, if left untreated, cause blindness.
Because this disease can cause blindness, early diagnosis and treatment are essential. We recommend having your eyes examined at least once a year if you are a diabetic or if you have a family history of diabetes.
To detect diabetic retinopathy, we look inside your eyes with an instrument called an ophthalmoscope, which lights-up and magnifies the retinal blood vessels in your eyes. The interior of your eyes may also be photographed to provide more information. The beginning stages of diabetic retinopathy may cause blurriness in your central or peripheral (side) vision, or they may produce no visual symptoms at all. It mainly depends on where the blood vessel changes are taking place in your eye’s retina.
As diabetic retinopathy progresses you may notice cloudiness in your vision, blind spots, or floaters, which are usually caused by blood leaking from abnormal new vessels that block light from reaching the retina.
In the advanced stages, connective scar tissue forms in association with new blood vessel growth, causing additional distortion and blurriness. Over time, this tissue can shrink and detach the retina by pulling it toward the center of the eye.
Once diabetic retinopathy has been diagnosed, laser and other surgical treatments can be used to reduce the progression of this disease and decrease the risk of vision loss.
If you have vision loss from diabetic retinopathy, we may prescribe special vision aids to help maximize your vision. Some of the optical aids available include telescopic lenses for distance vision, microscopic lenses, magnifying glasses, and electronic magnifiers for close work.
Not every diabetic patient develops retinopathy, but the chances of developing this disorder increase after having diabetes for several years. Evidence also suggests that factors such as pregnancy, high blood pressure, and smoking may cause diabetic eye disease to develop or worsen.
As a diabetic or a person at risk for diabetes, you should take steps to help prevent the development of diabetic retinopathy, including the following:
- Take your prescribed medication as instructed.
- Follow a proper diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Have your eyes examined regularly.
By following these recommendations, chances are good that you can enjoy a lifetime of good vision and health.