Diabetes is a disease that affects the body's ability to produce or use insulin effectively to control blood sugar (glucose) levels. Too much glucose in the blood for a long time can cause damage in many parts of the body. Diabetes can damage the heart, kidneys, and blood vessels. It damages small blood vessels in the eye as well.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that about 90% of vision loss from diabetes can be prevented. Early detection is key. It is critical that people with diabetes should get annual eye exams even before they have signs of vision loss. Studies show that 60% of diabetics are not getting the exams their doctors recommend.
What Is Diabetic Eye Disease?
Diabetic eye disease is a term for several eye problems that can all result from diabetes. Diabetic eye disease includes:
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Diabetic macular edema
Let's take a closer look at Diabetic Retinopathy:
Diabetic Retinopathy and DME are when the blood vessels in the back of the eye leak blood into the fluid that fills the eye, appearing as dark blotches in the field of vision. Our eyes attempt to compensate for the damaged blood vessels by growing new ones.
High blood sugar puts a serious strain on blood vessels, which is why diabetes is such a serious risk factor for retinopathy. If it advances far enough, diabetic retinopathy can become DME, which involves blurred central vision and can lead to retinal detachment and blindness. People who have diabetes or poor blood sugar control are at risk for diabetic retinopathy. The risk also increases, the longer someone has diabetes.
Stages of Diabetic Eye Disease
There are two main stages of diabetic eye disease.
NPDR (non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy)
NPDR is the early stage of diabetic eye disease, which many people with diabetes have.
Also, with NPDR, blood vessels in the retina can close off. This is called macular ischemia. When that happens, blood cannot reach the macula. Sometimes tiny particles called exudates can form in the retina. These can affect your vision too.
PDR (proliferative diabetic retinopathy)
PDR is the more advanced stage of diabetic eye disease. It happens when the retina starts growing new blood vessels. This is called neovascularization. These fragile new vessels often bleed into the vitreous. If they only bleed a little, you might see a few dark floaters. If they bleed a lot, it might block all vision.
These new blood vessels can form scar tissue. Scar tissue can cause problems with the macula or lead to a detached retina.
PDR is very serious, and can steal both your central and peripheral (side) vision.
Diabetic Retinopathy Symptoms
You can have diabetic retinopathy and not know it. This is because it often has no symptoms in its early stages. As diabetic retinopathy gets worse, you will notice symptoms such as:
- seeing an increasing number of floaters
- having blurry vision
- having vision that sometimes changes from blurry to clear
- seeing blank or dark areas in your field of vision
- having poor night vision
- noticing colors appear faded or washed out
- losing vision
Take Steps to Protect Your Vision
To prevent eye damage from diabetes, maintain good control of your blood sugar. Follow your primary care physician's diet and exercise plan. If you have not had an eye exam with an eye doctor, it is crucial to get one now. Be sure to never skip the follow-up exams that your eye doctor recommends. Call TODAY to schedule an appointment.