Diabetic Eye Disease
Uncontrolled diabetes can cause complications in many areas of the body, including the eyes. If left undetected and untreated, complications from diabetes can lead to irreversible vision loss and even blindness. The early stages of diabetic eye disease often go unnoticed because they don’t cause substantial changes in vision.
The risk of developing diabetic eye disease increases the longer someone has diabetes and the less they have it under control. But according to the National Eye Institute, catching and treating diabetic eye disease early reduces the risk of blindness by 95 percent.
For this reason, it’s critical for people with diabetes to understand their risk and manage it as best possible with the help of a trusted ophthalmologist like Dr. Gregory Johnson or trusted optometrist like Dr. Gail Kelley.
What Is Diabetic Eye Disease?
Diabetic eye disease refers to several types of eye conditions that occur in people with diabetes. These include the following:
Diabetic retinopathy. The most common cause of vision loss in people with diabetes, diabetic retinopathy affects the tiny blood vessels in the retina. In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, referred to as nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, the blood vessels leak blood and other fluid into the retina (the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye).
As the condition progresses into the later stages, the blood vessels can become swollen or blocked. In the more severe cases called proliferative diabetic retinopathy, new, abnormal blood vessels grow in the retina, leaking and bleeding. Scar tissue can develop, causing the retina to peel away from the back wall of the eye and resulting in permanent loss of vision.
Diabetic macular edema. Macular edema occurs when fluid leaks in the retina and accumulates in the macula, the part of the retina responsible for detailed central vision. Diabetic macular edema occurs in about half of all cases of diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetes also raises the risk of developing other eye diseases, including glaucoma and cataracts.
What Causes It?
Diabetic eye disease is a complication of diabetes. When sugar levels in the blood are too high, it can damage the body’s blood vessels, including the blood vessels that nourish the retina.
What Are the Symptoms of Diabetic Eye Disease?
Depending on the type and severity, diabetic eye disease may be asymptomatic or cause the following symptoms:
- Blurry vision
- Double vision
- Flashing lights
- Blind spots in the visual field
Diagnosing Diabetic Eye Disease with Optos Technology
Our team is excited to offer the revolutionary Optos technology to help us diagnose diabetic eye disease and other diseases and pathologies. The Optomap is an ultra-widefield retinal imaging tool used during annual eye exams. This technology allows us to capture and examine high-quality, high-definition images of the retina. It captures up to 82 percent, or 200 degrees of the retina in a single capture, wheresas traditional methods only reveal 10-15% of the retina at a time. The system works very quickly (in less than half a second) and is completely painless for patients.
Our team uses these Optomap images of the retina to look for lesions, swelling, abnormal blood vessels and other irregularities caused by diabetic eye disease. Seeing more of the retina — particularly the periphery, where diabetic retinopathy damage often begins — allows us to catch warning signs of diabetic retinopathy and other problems earlier and more accurately. It also helps us manage our patients’ diabetic eye disease and delay or stop the disease from progressing.
Ultimately the technology enables us to improve our treatment outcomes and help our patients maintain clear vision as long as possible.
Treatment for Disease
The management and treatment of diabetic eye disease depends on the nature and severity of the problem(s). First and foremost, it’s critical to control blood sugar levels and blood pressure with the help of a doctor.
A common way to treat cases of nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy is with laser treatment to seal off the leaking blood vessels. Proliferative diabetic retinopathy is often treated with the use of anti-VEGF medications, as these drugs block a protein that stimulates the growth of abnormal blood vessels. For cases of diabetic macular edema, corticosteroids can be used to reduce the swelling.
People with diabetes are encouraged to have regular eye exams, which can detect problems even before they cause noticeable symptoms. Dr. Johnson and Dr. Kelley recommend having at least one comprehensive eye exam annually.
Who Are Ideal Candidates for Diabetic Eye Disease Treatment?
Ideal candidates for diabetic eye disease treatment are individuals who experience effects of the disease that interfere with the vision they need for everyday functions like driving, reading and working on a computer. Usually the best course of action to manage early stage diabetic retinopathy is to keep diabetes under control with healthy lifestyle habits and prescribed medications and to schedule annual eye exams. In cases of late stage diabetic retinopathy, the best candidates for eye injections, laser or traditional surgery are those who have decided the potential benefits outweigh the treatment risks. The candidacy requirements vary by treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions about Diabetic Eye Disease
Can you prevent diabetic eye disease?
Although there is no way to completely avoid getting diabetic eye disease, you can lower your chances of developing diabetes-related eye problems by controlling your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, not smoking, exercising and seeing your eye doctor annually for an exam.
Is diabetic eye disease completely curable?
Diabetic eye disease cannot be cured, and sometimes vision lost to the disease cannot be restored. But treatments like laser therapy and vitrectomy can reduce the risk of irreversible vision loss and slow the progression of the disease.
Can treatment hurt?
Every treatment is different, and every patient has a different threshold for discomfort. That being said, our doctors do everything they can to minimize patient pain and discomfort, including using numbing eye drops and prescribing oral pain medication.
Learn More about Diabetic Eye Disease
For more information about diabetic eye disease, please call or email our team at Intracoastal Eye today.