An eye disease that is caused by diabetes is currently the number one cause of blindness and vision loss. Due to the increased risk in diabetic patients, doctors recommend that anyone with diabetes gets an annual dilated eye exam. Diabetic patients under 30 should get this exam five years after they have been diagnosed.
Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that is caused by damage to the retina. Patients that have diabetes may also have experienced extended periods of time where their blood sugar was elevated. The high levels of blood sugar damage the retina’s walls which leave them susceptible to leaking. When fluid accumulates in the retina or macula, it causes vision loss.
To make these matters worse, if prolonged high blood sugar levels are seen again, the retina will be oxygen-depleted. This causes the abnormal growth of new blood vessels. This condition is called neovascularization. This blood vessel type is weak and prone to leaking. As these blood vessels leak, they introduce blood into the eye.
Prevention, including monitoring blood sugar levels and blood pressure as well as having regular eye exams is critical in reducing the likelihood of diabetic retinopathy. Treatments can include laser surgery that aims to control and shrink leaking blood vessels and prevent the growth of new blood vessels. Intravitreal injections may also be needed to reduce the progression of diabetic retinopathy. Sometimes the vitreous gel becomes cloudy from the leaking blood and vitrectomy is needed to remove the vitreous gel and replace it with a clear saline solution. While there is no cure for diabetic retinopathy, early intervention can reduce the risks of serious vision problems.
Retinopathy affects every person and even the same pair of eyes differently. A one size fits all approach isn’t possible, and it is important to talk to your medical professional about which options or treatment plans are right for you.
It’s important to continue to learn about how you can manage diabetes to help keep the progression of diabetic retinopathy at bay. Make sure to use the tools that are available to you. Test your blood glucose daily, schedule your regular doctor appointments and annual exams, and learn to listen to your body. We can often start to detect that something is going on when things just don’t feel right.
Managing your diabetes with a complete health plan can lead to an increase in the quality of life and help to stop further vision loss.