Due to aging, there are eye conditions people should be aware of. Everyone above the age of 50 should have regular annual eye exams.
This allows for the early diagnosis and treatment of any potential conditions. One common condition in individuals with diabetes, especially older individuals, is diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetic retinopathy is a serious condition that can lead to blindness. But your vision can be preserved with proper diagnosis and management.
What is Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that presents as a complication of diabetes. It occurs when high glucose levels cause the blood vessels in your retina to swell and leak.
Your retina is a thin layer on the back of your eye. The retina contains photoreceptor cells. These photoreceptor cells translate light into impulses sent through the optic nerve to your brain as images.
When blood vessels swell and leak, it damages the cells that make up the retina, leading to vision loss. Once you lose any vision due to diabetic retinopathy, there is no way to restore it as the cells are irreparably destroyed.
The best way to preserve your vision is to manage and slow the progress of the disease.
The number one risk factor that causes diabetic retinopathy is not managing your diabetes. If you have diabetes for long enough, even if you keep your blood sugar levels under control, you’re likely to eventually develop diabetic retinopathy.
The older you are, the more likely you are to develop diabetic retinopathy. Unfortunately, diabetic retinopathy doesn’t present physical symptoms until your vision begins to worsen.
That’s why it’s important to have regular eye exams when you’re 50 or older, even if your diabetes is well-managed.
Other risk factors include:
● Being of African, Hispanic, or Native American descent
● Having high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol
● Being pregnant
● Smoking/using tobacco products
If you have any of these risk factors, you should be more vigilant about having regular eye exams. To lower your risk, the best thing you can do is lead a healthy lifestyle and keep your glucose levels under control.
But you can’t control your risk entirely. Talk about your personal risk with your doctor. They can tell you how often you should have full eye and retinal exams.
There is no cure for diabetic retinopathy but you can manage it. In the early stages, treatment may not be necessary. Even if you don’t need treatment right away, the progression of the disease should still be monitored.
In later stages, there are several management options, many of which involve surgical intervention. Laser surgery can be used to seal leaking blood vessels.
You may need a procedure called a vitrectomy. A vitrectomy is a surgery that removes some of your vitreous. The vitreous is the gel-like substance that fills the middle of the eye.
This may be used to reduce tension on your retina if the vitreous is tugging on it due to swelling.
Medication can also be injected directly into the eye. This is either in the form of steroids or a VEGF inhibitor, which can stop the growth of abnormal blood vessels.
These treatments can slow vision loss and preserve your vision when taken regularly. Talk to your doctor if you have diabetic retinopathy to determine which treatment may be right for you.
Concerned that you or a loved one may have diabetic retinopathy? Schedule an appointment at The Nielsen Eye Center in Boston, MA!
Call The Nielsen Eye Center at 617-471-5665 where you can talk to one of our dedicated Patient Advocates about your treatment options!