Diabetic eye disease is a group of conditions that causes vision loss in anyone with diabetes (type 1 or type 2). One form of diabetic eye disease is diabetic retinopathy which occurs when chronically high blood sugar levels cause blood vessels in the back of the eye (retina) to leak, distorting vision and if untreated lead to blindness. New abnormal blood vessels form at the back of the eye which leads to cell loss and scarring of the retina. Fluid can also build up in a region of the retina called the macula, causing blurred vision. The buildup of this fluid leads to diabetic macular edema (DME) which could lead to blindness.
Prevention: The best way to prevent diabetic eye disease is by controlling blood sugars and having yearly eye checks. Early detection is key to preserving vision loss due to diabetic retinopathy. Since early symptoms do not affect someone’s vision right away, it is important to have an eye exam at least once a year. Traditionally, someone would make an appointment with their eye doctor and have a full dilated eye exam to check for diabetic retinopathy. However, imaging using fundus photos is sufficient for detecting changes to the retina and is much quicker and more comfortable than a traditional eye exam. An example of a fundus photo can be seen in the upper left photo.
Treatment: If any disease is found, treatments include anti-VEGF therapy, laser surgery, and corticosteroids. These treatments can only preserve what vision is left.
Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in the United States but is preventable. Most people will not go to see an eye doctor until the disease affects their sight, but once that happens there is no way to reverse the effects. Risk increases the longer someone has diabetes or if someone has trouble controlling high blood sugar levels. With the predicted rise in prevalence of diabetes, it is essential to increase access to preventative eye screening and expedite specialty eye care.
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