Diabetes - Frequently Asked Questions
What is diabetic eye disease?
Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye problems that people with diabetes may face as a complication of this disease. All can cause severe loss of vision or even blindness.
Diabetic eye disease may include:
Diabetic retinopathy - damage to blood vessels in the retina.
Cataract - clouding of the eye's lens..
Glaucoma - increase in fluid pressure inside the eye that leads to optic nerve damage and loss of vision.
What is the most common diabetic eye disease?
Diabetic retinopathy. This disease is a leading cause of blindness in American adults. It is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina. In some patients with diabetic retinopathy, retinal blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina. These changes may result in vision loss or blindness.
What are its symptoms?
Often there are none in the early stages of the disease. Vision may not change until the disease becomes severe. Nor is there any pain.
Blurred vision may occur when the macula - the part of the retina that provides sharp, central vision - swells from the leaking fluids. This condition is called macular edema. If new vessels have grown on the surface of the retina, they can bleed into the eye, blocking vision. But, even in more advanced cases, the disease may progress a long way without symptoms. That is why regular eye examinations for patients with diabetes are so important.
Who is most likely to get diabetic retinopathy?
Anyone with diabetes. The longer a patient has diabetes, the more likely she/he with get diabetic retinopathy. Nearly half of all patients with diabetes will develop some degree of diabetic retinopathy in their lifetime.
Can diabetic retinopathy be treated?
Yes. I may suggest laser treatment in which a strong light beam is aimed onto the retina to shrink the abnormal vessels. Laser surgery has been proven to reduce the risk of severe vision loss from this type of diabetic retinopathy by 90 percent.
If you have macular edema, laser surgery may also be used. In this case, the laser beam is used to seal the leaking blood vessels. However, laser surgery often cannot restore vision that has already been lost. That is why finding diabetic retinopathy early is the best way to present vision loss.
Can diabetic retinopathy be prevented?
Not totally, but your risk can be greatly reduced. The better control of blood sugar levels slows the onset and progression of retinopathy and lessens the need for laser surgery for severe retinopathy.
How common are the other diabetic eye diseases?
If you have diabetes, you are also at risk for other diabetic eye diseases. Studies show that you are twice as likely to get a cataract as a person who does not have the disease. Also, cataracts develop at an earlier age in patients with diabetes. Cataracts can usually be treated by surgery.
Glaucoma may also become a problem. Patients with diabetes are nearly twice as likely to get glaucoma as other adults. And, as with diabetic retinopathy, the longer you have had diabetes, the greater your risk of getting glaucoma. Glaucoma my be treated with medications, laser, or other forms of surgery.
What research is being done?
Much research is being done to learn more about diabetic eye disease. For instance, the National Eye Institute is supporting studies in the laboratory and with patients to learn what causes diabetic retinopathy and how it can be better treated. This research should provide better ways to detect and treat diabetic eye disease and prevent blindness in more patients with diabetes.
What can you do to protect your vision?
Finding and treating the disease early, before it causes vision loss or blindness, is the best way to control diabetic eye disease. So, if you have diabetes, make sure you get a dilated eye examination at least once a year.
Diabetes - Frequently Asked Questions