Diabetic Retinopathy happens when high blood sugar damages blood vessels in the retina. When these blood vessels are damaged, they can leak fluid or bleed. This causes the retina to swell and form deposits. This is an early form of diabetic retinopathy called non-proliferative or background retinopathy.
In a later stage, called proliferative retinopathy, new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina. These new blood vessels can lead to serious vision problems because they can break and bleed into the vitreous; the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the center of the eye. Proliferative retinopathy is a much more serious form of the disease and can lead to blindness.
Diabetic Retinopathy generally does not develop in diabetics until they have had diabetes for at least 10 years, but it is not wise to wait that long to have an eye exam. As soon as you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, you need to have a dilated eye exam at least once a year.
Common Questions about Diabetes and the Eye
- What is diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is characterized by proliferative and non-proliferative. Non-proliferative retinopathy is the earliest form. It can be diagnosed by a dilated eye exam and is characterized by swelling in the blood vessels, signaling that the blood vessels are not healthy. It is a warning sign of more severe problems. Proliferative retinopathy is the more severe type of retinopathy and is characterized by new blood growths forming in the retina. Those new blood vessels are very fragile and can easily leak blood into the eye, causing vision loss that is permanent.
- Can diabetes damage be treated in the eye?
There are laser treatments that can help the disease from getting worse. However, there is no treatment that reverses the damage that is done. Also, there are corticosteroids that can be injected into the eye to slow down the growth of new blood vessels.
- Do elevated blood sugars cause blurry vision?
This is usually temporary. Once the blood sugars are decreased, the vision will clear up. However, prolonged elevated sugars can cause retinopathy (new blood growth, and bleeding) in the eye which causes permanent damage.
- Are those who have Type I or Type II diabetes more susceptible to damage?
Those who have had diabetes for a long time are more susceptible to diabetes damage, therefore, those who have Type I diabetes typically have more damage than those with Type II
- What kind of symptoms would I have?
Most diabetic patients have absolutely no symptoms of retinopathy damage until it is too late, and permanent. That is why a yearly dilated exam is so important. Your ophthalmologist can see changes in your retina and warn you to make changes in your blood sugar before the damage is done. Once there is bleeding or permanent changes, some people complain of seeing floaters, blurriness or missing spots in their vision.
- What does diabetic retinopathy look like?
- What tests can the ophthalmologist do to diagnose diabetes?
The best, and most common way that doctors can diagnose diabetes is through a dilated eye exam to look directly back at the retina. Photos taken of the back of the retina are also used to document changes in the retina.
- I already have permanent vision loss, is there any hope?
A lot of research is being done to develop drugs that would help to slow down the progression of diabetic retinopathy as well as lasers that would help to treat retinopathy. Also, researchers are seeking better ways to detect, treat and prevent vision loss in people with diabetes. There are also low vision specialists who can help direct patients to equipment that helps magnify and better utilize existing vision. It is also important to continue to have yearly dilated eye exams as well as keeping blood sugar under control to help preserve any remaining vision.
If you need a low vision specialist, please call the Nielsen Eye Center at 617-471-5665 or 877-373-2020.
Facts about Diabetes and the Eyes
- Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-age Americans.
- Usually by the time diabetic patients recognize symptoms in their vision, the damage is severe, and many times irreversible.
- Having diabetes for a long time increases the chance for diabetic retinopathy.
- Almost all of those patients who have had diabetes for more than 30 years show signs of diabetic retinopathy.
- Diabetic retinopathy damage is permanent.
- Smoking and high blood pressure increase chances for diabetic retinopathy.
- The best measure to prevent diabetes damage in the eye is by keeping blood sugars low, and under control and having yearly dilated eye exams.
- Diabetic Retinopathy almost always affects both eyes.
- If you have diabetic retinopathy, you may need an eye exam more often. People with proliferative retinopathy can reduce their risk of blindness by 95 percent with timely treatment and appropriate follow-up care.
- Many cases of diabetes are diagnosed through a dilated eye exam.