Diabetes can affect the human body in many ways. The condition occurs when the body does not use and store sugar properly. This can cause high blood-sugar levels, excessive thirst, and excessive urination. It may also result in changes to the body’s veins, arteries, and blood vessels.
In terms of your vision, diabetes can lead to the development of cataracts, glaucoma, and damaged blood vessels inside the eye and, overall, put you at risk for diabetic eye disease, otherwise known as diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetic eye disease (or diabetic retinopathy) is a complication of diabetes that can result in loss of vision. This condition is caused by negative changes in the blood vessels of the eye. When retinal blood vessels are damaged, they may leak fluid or blood and grow fragile, brush-like branches and scar tissue. This blurs and distorts the images that are picked up by the retina. The retina is a nerve layer at the back of the eye that senses light and helps to send images to your brain. If the images coming into the retina are damaged, your sight is impaired.
The longer a person has diabetes, the more at risk they are of developing diabetic retinopathy. This diabetic eye disease is the leading cause of new blindness among adults in the United States. People with untreated diabetes are said to be 25 times more at risk for blindness than the general population. Additionally, about 80% of people who’ve had diabetes for at least 15 years have some blood vessel damage to their retina. However, thanks to the advancements of today, with early diagnosis and proper treatment, only a small percentage of people who develop diabetic retinopathy have serious vision problems. Note—pregnancy and high blood pressure may aggravate diabetic retinopathy.
The best way to protect yourself against the harmful side effects of diabetic eye disease is by having regular examinations with your trusted eye doctor. Different forms of the disease, including serious conditions like proliferative retinopathy, can be present without symptoms. So you could be going about your daily life not knowing that an extremely harmful disease is damaging your vision. Therefore, regular eye examinations are a good idea even if you seem completely healthy. If you have diabetes, it is especially important to schedule these checkups with your eye doctor so he or she can ensure you are not developing diabetic eye disease/diabetic retinopathy.
When your eye doctor examines you for traces of diabetic eye disease, he or she will look inside the eye using an instrument called an ophthalmoscope. The pupils may need to be dilated (enlarged) with eye drops beforehand. If your eye doctor finds diabetic retinopathy, he or she may order color photographs of the retina or a special test called a fluorescein angiography to find out if you need treatment. Fluorescein angiography is a test where dye is injected into your arm and special photos of your eye are taken. From there, your eye doctor will discuss your treatment options.
If you have diabetes you are at risk for many harmful conditions, including diabetic eye disease. The key to treating diabetic eye disease and keeping it from progressing into more harmful stages of retinopathy is getting the proper treatment and being diagnosed by an eye doctor. A fast and painless checkup could therefore be the key to maintaining healthy eyesight! So schedule an appointment with one of the eye doctors at Southern Eye Group in Mobile, Foley, Fairhope, AL, Pensacola, FL, or Biloxi, MS. We are committed to helping our patients have great vision throughout their lives!