The Dangers of Diabetic Retinopathy
You could be at risk of developing a serious vision condition if you have diabetes. The condition, called diabetic retinopathy, blurs your vision and can lead to vision loss. Lowering your blood sugar level and scheduling regular eye exams will help you protect your eyesight.
How Diabetic Retinopathy Affects Your Vision
Diabetic retinopathy occurs when you have too much glucose (sugar) in your blood. The condition affects the retina, the layer of light-sensing cells at the back of your eye. Your retina turns light rays into electrical impulses and sends them to the brain for processing. If the retina is damaged, the brain doesn't receive the signals it needs to produce clear, complete images.
Vision changes happen when sugar builds up and clogs the tiny blood vessels in the retina. Due to the blockages, the vessels begin to leak fluid or blood. If a blood vessel is completely blocked, your body reacts by creating new vessels to carry the blood.
Unfortunately, these new blood vessels are often abnormal and also bleed and leak. The leaks interfere with your eyesight and can create scar tissue. As a result, you may notice blurred vision, dark floaters or blank spots in your vision. Diabetic retinopathy may also make colors look faded and cause problems with your night vision.
In addition to causing vision loss, diabetic retinopathy increases your risk of developing other eye diseases and conditions, including:
- Detached Retina. Scar tissue may pull part of the retina away from the back of the eye. If this happens, you'll notice a sudden dark spot in your vision. It may be possible to reattach your retina and restore some or all of your vision if you receive emergency treatment.
- Glaucoma. Glaucoma causes high pressure inside your eye, although you may not notice any changes in your vision at first. Unfortunately, the pressure may eventually damage your optic nerve, the pathway between your brain and eyes. Vision loss caused by glaucoma is permanent.
- Macular Edema. Diabetic retinopathy can trigger the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the macula, the middle part of the retina that's responsible for color and central vision. Leaky blood vessels cause swelling in the macula, and can be the reason your vision looks blurry or colors appear faded. If the condition isn't successfully treated, you may develop blind spots in your central vision.
- Cataracts. A cataract occurs when the normally clear lens inside your eye becomes cloudy. Cataracts can cause blurry or double vision, make colors look dull, create halos around lights, and increase your sensitivity to light. Although anyone can develop cataracts, people who have diabetes are 2 to 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with cataracts, according to the National Eye Institute.
What You Can Do to Reduce Your Risk of Diabetic Retinopathy
Keeping your blood sugar level within normal limits will help you avoid vision changes due to diabetic retinopathy. If you've been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and take medication designed to lower your blood sugar, if needed. Diet and exercise are also important if you have type 1 diabetes, although you'll need to rely on insulin to keep your blood sugar level low.
An annual visit to the ophthalmologist is a must if you have diabetes. During your visit, your eye doctor will dilate your eyes and look for signs that may mean that you're at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy.
Signs that could mean that you already have or are more likely to develop the disease include:
- Swollen Blood Vessels
- Leaky Vessels
- Abnormal Blood Vessels
- Scar Tissue
- Poor Circulation in Your Eyes
You'll need to return to the office every few months for follow-up examinations if your ophthalmologist notices any concerning changes in your eyes.
If you're diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, your eye doctor offers several helpful treatments. He or she may recommend injections that shrink blood vessels and reduce swelling. Laser therapy is another option. The treatment stops leaks while also shrinking vessels.
In some cases, a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy may be a good option. A vitrectomy is usually recommended if the vitreous humor, the gel-like fluid that gives your eyeball its shape, becomes filled with blood or scar tissue. Removing the vitreous humor and replacing it with fluid, gas or silicone oil during a vitrectomy may improve your vision. The surgery may also be helpful if you have a detached retina.
Do you have diabetes? Protect your vision with regular eye exams. Get in touch with our office to schedule your next vision.