How can diabetes affect my eyes?
Diabetes is a disease that is caused by too much glucose (sugar) in the blood for extended periods of time. Diabetes can harm many different parts of the eye. The retina is the most commonly affected structure and the medical term for this is called diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-age Americans.
What is diabetic retinopathy?
There are two types or stages of retinopathy:
- Background or Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR)
- Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR)
Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) is the earliest stage of diabetic retinopathy. With this condition, damaged blood vessels in the retina begin to leak extra fluid and small amounts of blood into the retina. It can cause some blood vessels to swell, some to become leaky and others to become clogged.
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR), is the more advanced and severe form of the disease. PDR mainly occurs when many of the blood vessels in the retina close, preventing enough blood flow. In an attempt to supply blood to the area where the original vessels closed, the retina responds by growing new blood vessels. These new vessels are fragile and can bleed, cause swelling (macular edema) and cause scars to develop. PDR may cause more severe vision loss than NPDR because it can affect both central and peripheral vision.
A Healthy Retina, NPDR and PDR
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What are the symptoms?
Most often, diabetic retinopathy has no symptoms until the damage to your eyes is severe. As the disease progresses, the vision can become quite blurred and you may see spots in your vision.
How will I know if I have diabetic retinopathy?
A medical eye examination is the only way to find changes inside your eye. Your ophthalmologist will dilate your pupils with eye drops and carefully examine your retina. They may also take pictures and/or scans of your retina.
How can I prevent diabetic retinopathy?
Having more severe diabetes for a longer period of time increases the chance of getting retinopathy. You can significantly lower your risk of vision loss by maintaining strict control of your blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and stop smoking. Early detection of diabetic retinopathy is the best protection against loss of vision. Visiting your ophthalmologist regularly is a must.
Depending on the severity of your retinopathy, you may or may not need treatment. Treatment may vary and can include corticosteroids injected into the eyeball and /or laser treatment on your retina.