Diabetics are at increased risk of developing eye disease, including diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and glaucoma. The most common of these is diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of new cases of blindness among working-age people in the United States. If you have diabetes, you are likely to get cataracts at a younger age and your chances of developing glaucoma are doubled.
Diabetic retinopathy is a potentially vision threatening condition in which the blood vessels inside the retina become damaged from the high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes. In some people with diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels may swell and leak fluid. In other people, abnormal new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina. The longer you have diabetes, the greater your chance of developing diabetic retinopathy. The risk increases if blood sugar levels and blood pressure are poorly controlled.
Once diagnosed with diabetes, schedule a comprehensive dilated eye evaluation at least once a year. Your eye doctor will recommend more frequent examinations if abnormalities are detected. Diabetic eye disease is most successfully treated if it is diagnosed early, before vision is significantly affected. Because there are often no symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, your vision may not be affected until the disease becomes severe.
You should also see your ophthalmologist promptly if you experience:
Women with diabetes should also be examined if considering pregnancy, early in the first trimester and every 1 to 3 months during pregnancy because diabetic retinopathy can progress much more rapidly during pregnancy.
An effective partnership between you, your primary care physician and your Eye M.D. is essential to assure proper eye care and treatment.
The current primary treatment option for diabetic retinopathy is an office treatment called laser photocoagulation. With the “pan retinal” laser, the ophthalmologist makes tiny burns on the retina surface removing damaged retinal tissue. This helps to stop or prevent growth of abnormal blood vessels that cause vitreous hemorrhage and retinal detachment. The “focal” laser helps to close leaking blood vessels, which lead to macular edema. When performed promptly, laser photocoagulation helps reduce the risk of severe vision loss by up to 90 percent.
Recent studies show that intensive control of diabetes with self-monitoring of blood sugar levels can significantly slow the development of diabetic retinopathy and other complications from diabetes. As always, early diagnosis of diabetes and the effective control of blood sugar levels and hypertension through diet, exercise, and medication can help control eye diseases associated with diabetes.
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