November is Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month. EYEcenter wants our patients to love and preserve their vision, whether they have diabetes or not–but during this time, please educate yourself on these conditions that could now or someday affect you or a loved one.
Diabetic eye disease is a group of eye conditions that can affect people with diabetes.
- Diabetic retinopathy affects blood vessels in the light-sensitive tissue called the retina that lines the back of the eye. It is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes and the leading cause of vision impairment and blindness among working-age adults.
- Diabetic macular edema (DME). A consequence of diabetic retinopathy, DME is swelling in an area of the retina called the macula.
Diabetic eye disease also includes cataract and glaucoma:
- Cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens. Adults with diabetes are 2-5 times more likely than those without diabetes to develop cataracts. Cataracts also tends to develop at an earlier age in people with diabetes.
- Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve—the bundle of nerve fibers that connects the eye to the brain. Some types of glaucoma are associated with elevated pressure inside the eye. In adults, diabetes nearly doubles the risk of glaucoma.
All forms of diabetic eye disease have the potential to cause severe vision loss and blindness.
The same scene as viewed by a person normal vision (Left) and with (Center) advanced diabetic retinopathy. The floating spots are hemorrhages that require prompt treatment. DME (Right) causes blurred vision. Photos courtesy of WebMD.
What causes diabetic retinopathy?
Chronically high blood sugar from diabetes is associated with damage to the tiny blood vessels in the retina, leading to diabetic retinopathy. The retina detects light and converts it to signals sent through the optic nerve to the brain. Diabetic retinopathy can cause blood vessels in the retina to leak fluid or hemorrhage (bleed), distorting vision. In its most advanced stage, new abnormal blood vessels proliferate (increase in number) on the surface of the retina, which can lead to scarring and cell loss in the retina.
How can people with diabetes protect their vision?
Vision lost to diabetic retinopathy is sometimes irreversible. However, early detection and treatment can reduce the risk of blindness by 95 percent. Because diabetic retinopathy often lacks early symptoms, people with diabetes should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. People with diabetic retinopathy may need eye exams more frequently. Women with diabetes who become pregnant should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam as soon as possible. Additional exams during pregnancy may be needed.
Studies such as the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) have shown that controlling diabetes slows the onset and worsening of diabetic retinopathy. DCCT study participants who kept their blood glucose level as close to normal as possible were significantly less likely than those without optimal glucose control to develop diabetic retinopathy, as well as kidney and nerve diseases. Other trials have shown that controlling elevated blood pressure and cholesterol can reduce the risk of vision loss among people with diabetes.
Treatment for diabetic retinopathy is often delayed until it starts to progress to PDR, or when DME occurs. Comprehensive eye exams are needed more frequently as diabetic retinopathy becomes more severe.
Preserve your vision–early detection is key! Call us to schedule your eye exam appointment today.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.