Typically referred to as diabetic retinopathy, diabetic eye disease is when the blood vessels in the back of the eye or the retina become leaky and porous like a garden hose. As a result, they typically leak out blood and protein, which depending on its location can be devastating to our vision. Diabetes can also affect other portions of the eye such as the iris or colored portion of our eye. It can also affect our focusing lens in our eyes causing significant prescription changes or early cataracts.
Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include blurry vision,a sudden decrease in vision, or the appearance of looking thru Swiss cheese as blood splotches the retina. It can also be completely asymptomatic if it hasn’t yet affected the area of our eye we use for fine central vision. Depending on your glucose control, individuals with a history of diabetes usually longer than 10 years are likely to get diabetic retinopathy.
How is diabetic retinopathy detected? Often, a comprehensive eye health exam including retinal dilation can reveal the earliest signs. In addition, other sophisticated instruments can look deeper into the layers of the retina to reveal the depth and extent of some of these changes.
Treatment options initially rely heavily on close glucose control. However, if vision threatening changes occur, treatments include laser an/or injections to the eye to seal off leaky blood vessels.
Can diabetic retinopathy be prevented? Through diet, exercise and proper glucose control diabetes can be controlled, if not prevented, maintaining healthy eyes and overall health.
How common are other diabetic eye diseases? Blindness and vision loss due to diabetes are among the top three reasons for vision loss in America. Stem cell research is an ongoing effort to help regenerate cells that previously haven’t been working properly to produce insulin in type 1 diabetics. The concept of inflammation and anti-inflammatory drugs , genetics, our environment and stress are all being studied as it relates to type 2 diabetics.
What can you do to protect your vision? Maintaining tight glucose levels, an appropriate level of physical activity, smoking cessation and annual dilated eye exams or as directed by your eye care practitioner are all good ways to help manage and protect your vision. The use of ultra-violet radiation blocking sunglasses and blue light filtering eyewear that reduces the harmful high energy radiation emitted from digital devices are all very helpful as well.