What Is Diabetic Eye Disease?

Diabetes affects the body in numerous ways, and it can even affect the eyes. Diabetic eye disease, or diabetic retinopathy, is an eye condition that may result from diabetes. The disease occurs when blood vessels in the back of the eye weaken and leak fluid, or when abnormal blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina. These abnormal blood vessels can hemorrhage.

Diabetic eye disease is the leading cause of blindness in people ages 20 to 64. The National Eye Institute estimates that 40 to 45 percent of all Americans with diabetes have some form of this eye condition.

What causes diabetic eye disease?

High blood glucose levels can cause the tiny blood vessels in the back of the eye to swell, leak or become blocked, cutting off nourishment to the retina. If blood flow to the retina is lost, it can result in vision loss. In some cases, the body responds by signaling the production of more blood vessels. Unfortunately, these new blood vessels are fragile and more prone to leaking, which may also cause permanent damage and even blindness.

What are the symptoms of diabetic eye disease?

Diabetics can live with diabetic eye disease for a long time before they notice any changes in vision or symptoms. In most cases, noticeable symptoms do not appear until significant damage to the eye has occurred. Symptoms of diabetic eye disease include:

• Blurred or distorted vision
• Difficulty reading
• Seeing double
• Floaters or spots in field of vision
• Appearance of a shadow or veil across field of vision
• Partial or total vision loss
• Pain or pressure in the eye
• Constant redness of the eye

Who is at risk for developing diabetic eye disease?

Diabetic eye disease is the result of diabetes, but not all diabetics will develop the eye condition. Some diabetics are at higher risk of developing diabetic eye disease. These risk factors include:

• Poor management of diabetes
• High blood pressure
• High cholesterol
• Smoking
• Lack of preventative eye care

Can diabetic eye disease be prevented?

Diabetic eye disease is the result of a medical condition, but it can be further induced by an unhealthy lifestyle. It is possible to reduce your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. If you have diabetes, you should:

• Eat a healthy diet
• Make exercise a priority
• Carefully monitor blood sugar
• Keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels down
• Quit smoking

Is there treatment for diabetic eye disease?

There are four stages of diabetic eye disease. The stage of the eye condition will determine the course of treatment for a particular patient. In the early stages, no treatment other than monitoring the disease and maintaining a healthy lifestyle may be necessary.

As the disease progresses, the blood vessels in the eye may begin to leak fluid into the eye. This can cause permanent damage to the eye, cause scar tissue to develop and may even cause vision loss. Leaky blood vessels can be treated with a laser eye treatment called photocoagulation. During this treatment, a laser is used to create seal the leaking blood vessels.

When abnormal blood vessel growth occurs during the final stage of the disease—proliferative diabetic retinopathy—a laser treatment is used to scatter small burn areas across the retina, causing the abnormal blood vessels to shrink and disappear.

If bleeding into the vitreous gel of the eye does not clear up on its own, a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy may be necessary to clear the eye of blood left by the disease.

Because symptoms may not appear until the disease is in later stages, it is crucial that you maintain regular eye exams if you are a diabetic. Early detection and treatment may save your vision. If you have diabetes, schedule a comprehensive eye exam with Key-Whitman today.