Diabetes, sometimes called "sugar" can cause many different eye problems. It can bring on Cataracts, Glaucoma, and new blood vessel that break easily and leak blood. This is called a hemorrhage. It can also cause blurred vision and frequent changes in eyeglass prescription.
In this article, we will focus primarily on the changes in the back of the eye, called Diabetic Retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among adults. About 1 out of every 4 people with diabetics has some form of the disease. Juvenile diabetes is diabetes that usually starts at an early age, and adult onset diabetes usually starts later in life. As we get older, it is more likely to have changes in the retina, and the longer that someone has diabetes, it is also more likely for them to have diabetic retinopathy. Most (90%) of diabetics may experience some form of diabetic retinopathy over the course of their life, but only a small percentage of those developing diabetic retinopathy have vision problems. An even a smaller number of diabetics become blind.
What is diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that causes abnormalities in the tiny blood vessels that supply nourishment to the retina. The retina is the thin layer of delicate nerve tissue that lines the back portion of the eye. It is somewhat similar to a photographic film in a camera. In diabetes, these little vessels become weak and then leak fluid and blood. Nutrients that are needed for good health in the retina can't get to where they are needed. If this is left untreated, then diabetic retinopathy can result in severe visual loss, including blindness.
What causes diabetic retinopathy?
We don't completely understand what causes diabetic retinopathy, but we do known that diabetes makes these small blood vessels weak in various areas of the body, including the retina. Although we can't prevent diabetic retinopathy, we can often control it.
What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?
At times there may be gradual blurred vision, but significant loss of sight does not usually occur with background retinopathy. There is no pain or external symptoms such as bloodshot eyes or discharge, and therefore, changes in the retina can go unnoticed unless detected by an eye examination.
When bleeding happens, as the disease becomes worse, this is called proliferative retinopathy. There can be clouding or complete loss of sight. The retina can become pulled, and this causes distortion and blurring. It is possible to have these changes going on without ever feeling as though things are happening.
How is diabetic retinopathy diagnosed?
A comprehensive eye examination is the best protection against the progression of diabetic retinopathy. The disease can be detected by viewing the retina with instruments which illuminate and magnify the structures of the eye.
A new instrument called the Optomap Retinal Examination can take a picture of the back part of the eye in less than a second. There are no eye drops, no blurred vision, and no need to bring someone to drive you home. The doctor is able to show you the picture of your own retina on the computer screen, and let you know how it looks. It also serves as a permanent record to be able to check for changes from one visit to the next.
If diabetic retinopathy is found, a special test with dye is performed to determine the extent of blood vessel leakage. In this procedure, a series of photographs are taken as a dye travels through the arteries and veins in the retina. In some cases, ultrasound equipment may be used to check for retinal detachment.
Prevention is the best medicine
Early detection and management of diabetic retinopathy is important to stop or slow down the development of the more sight damaging stages of the disease. Even when no symptoms are noticed, people with diabetes should have frequent eye examinations. Those people that don't have diabetes should also have their eyes examined periodically, to help detect the presence of diabetes and other diseases. With careful monitoring, treatment of diabetic retinopathy can usually be started before sight is affected.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy or other vision problems, you should obtain a complete eye examination. If you have diabetes, you should have at least one eye examination every year.