Diabetes and the Retina

fundusDiabetic eye disease, a group of eye problems that affects those with diabetes, includes diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and glaucoma. The most common of these is diabetic retinopathy, which affects 5.3 million Americans age eighteen and older.

Diabetic retinopathy is a potentially blinding condition in which the blood vessels in the retina (inside back portion of the eye) become damaged from the high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes. The damage results in leakage from the blood vessels and poor blood flow. In some cases, abnormal blood vessel growth is stimulated and this can lead to bleeding within the eye and even retinal detachment. All of which may cause severe vision loss, even blindness.

Although the cause of diabetes continues to be a mystery, both genetic and environmental factors such as obesity, smoking and lack of exercise appear to play roles. Early diagnosis of diabetes and most importantly, maintaining strict control of blood sugar and hypertension through diet, exercise and medication can help to reduce your risk of developing eye diseases associated with diabetes.

Types of Diabetic Retinopathy

Non Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy – the initial stage in the development of diabetic retinopathy. Here, blood vessel disease can lead to bleeding within the eye, formation of tiny abnormal outpouchings of vessel walls known as microaneurysms, and retinal swelling known as macular edema. Macular edema results from the leakage of fluids directly through the abnormal blood vessel walls into the retinal tissue. It is the most common cause of visual loss in this stage of diabetic retinopathy. This leakage if caught early can often be reversed by appropriate laser therapy, thus helping to preserve and often improve central vision.

Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy – A more advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy. Here, there is a proliferation of abnormal blood vessels in the retina. These abnormal blood vessels are dangerous because they can lead to bleeding within the eye, severe forms of glaucoma and even retinal detachment. All of which can lead to rapid and permanent loss of vision. When diabetic eye disease advances to this stage, laser treatment is needed to halt the damage. Multiple laser treatments over time are sometimes necessary .

The American Academy of Ophthalmology and The American Diabetes Association recommend a yearly dilated eye examination once you are diagnosed with diabetes. At the East West Eye Institute, we have experienced optometrists and ophthalmologists that can examine you for the effects of diabetic eye disease. It is important to remember that only an Eye MD (ophthalmologist) can treat diabetic eye disease however.

Diabetic Laser

Laser treatment has been shown to reduce the chance of severe vision loss and blindness in diabetic retinopathy. This surgery does not cure diabetic retinopathy nor does it usually restore vision that has already been lost, but it can help to prevent future vision loss, especially if diabetes or blood pressure is controlled.

At the East West Eye Institute, our Eye MDs are trained in advanced laser treatment of diabetic eye disease and we have helped thousands of patients preserve their vision utilizing this technology.

Early detection of diabetic retinopathy is the best protection against loss of vision. You can significantly lower your risk of vision loss by maintaining strict control of your blood sugar and visiting the Eye MDs and optometrists of the East West Eye Institute regularly.