Diabetes can Affect Sight
If you have diabetes mellitus, your body does not use and store sugar properly. Diabetes can cause high blood-sugar levels, excessive thirst and urination. It can also cause changes in the body's blood vessels, the veins and arteries that carry blood throughout your body.
Because diabetes affects your body in these ways, it can affect vision by causing cataracts, glaucoma and, most importantly, damage to blood vessels inside the eye.
What is Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the eye. The retina is a nerve layer at the back of the eye that senses light and helps to send images to your brain. When blood vessels in the retina are damaged, they may leak fluid or blood, and grow fragile, brush-like branches and scar tissue. This can blur or distort the images that the retina sends to the brain.
People with untreated diabetes are said to be 25 times more at risk for blindness than the general population.
If you have diabetes, it's important to know that today, with improved methods of diagnosis and treatment, only a small percentage of people who develop retinopathy have serious vision problems.
Types of Diabetic Retinopathy
Background retinopathy is an early stage of diabetic retinopathy, where tiny blood vessels within the retina become damaged and leak blood or fluid, causing the retina to swell or to form deposits called exudates. While this stage usually doesn't affect your vision, it can lead to more sight-threatening stages. For this reason, background retinopathy is considered a warning sign.
Sometimes the leaking fluid collects in the macula, the part of the retina the lets us see fine details, like letters or numbers. This problem is macular edema. Reading and close work may become more difficult because of this condition.
Proliferative retinopathy describes the changes that occur when new, abnormal blood vessels begin growing on the surface of the retina called neovascularizaion. These new blood vessels have weaker walls and may break and bleed. The vitreous is the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the center of the eye. Leaking blood can cloud the vitreous and partially block the light passing through the pupil towards the retina, causing blurred and distorted images.
These abnormal blood vessels may grow scar tissue that can pull the retina away from the back of the eye. This is called a retinal detachment. If left untreated, a retinal detachment can cause severe vision loss.
Abnormal blood vessels may also grow around the pupil (on the iris) causing glaucoma by increasing pressure within the eye.
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy is the most serious form of diabetic retinal disease. It affects up to 20% of diabetics and can cause severe loss of sight, including blindness.
How Is Diabetic Retinopathy Treated?
Your ophthalmologist will consider:
• Your age;
• Your medical history;
• Your lifestyle;
• How much your retina is damaged.
In many cases treatment is not necessary, but you will need to continue having regular eye exams. In other cases, treatment is recommended to stop the damage of diabetic retinopathy and improve sight whenever possible.
Laser Surgery: This procedure is often helpful in treating diabetic retinopathy. A powerful beam of laser light is focused on the damaged retina. Small bursts of the laser's beam seal leaking retinal vessels to reduce macular edema. This is called photocoagulation.
For abnormal blood vessel growth (neovascularization), the laser beam bursts are scattered throughout the side areas of the retina. The small laser scars reduce the abnormal blood vessel growth and help bond the retina to the back of the eye, preventing retinal detachment.
Laser surgery may be performed in your ophthalmologist's office or an outpatient clinic. If diabetic retinopathy is detected early, laser surgery slows down vision loss. Even in the more advanced stages of the disease (proliferative retinopathy), it reduces the chance of severe visual impairment.
What Is Your Part In Treatment?
Successful care of diabetic retinopathy depends on more than early treatment by your ophthalmologist. Your attitude and attention to medications and diet are essential. You must maintain blood sugar levels, avoid smoking and watch your blood pressure.