Diabetic Eye Care
Over 30 million Americans have diabetes, a chronic disease in which the body does not properly convert food into energy. Diabetes can lead to complications in several areas of the body, one of which is the eyes. The group of eye diseases that diabetics are more at risk of developing are collectively known as diabetic eye disease. These eye diseases include diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma.
How often should diabetics get an eye exam?
It is typically recommended for diabetics to get an eye exam once a year. A diabetic eye exam will involve being dilated so that the eye doctor can see a wider view of the retina. This will give a clear picture of the overall health of the retina. When damage to the retina is detected early on, treatment can be implemented quickly to help prevent vision loss. Getting a yearly diabetic eye exam allows the ophthalmologist or optometrist to monitor any changes in the health of your eye. Though if any noticeable changes in vision occur in between your yearly scheduled eye exams, you should notify your eye doctor. If you have severe diabetic eye disease, more frequent eye exams may be needed.
What is diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease that affects the blood vessels of the retina. The longer you have had diabetes, the more likely you will develop diabetic retinopathy. There are two main stages of diabetic retinopathy:
- Non-proliferative - This is the early stage of diabetic retinopathy. Blood vessels may leak fluid into the retina and can cause swelling. Symptoms may not be noticeable at this stage but a comprehensive eye exam can detect damage. If an eye exam isn’t completed, damage to the retina may otherwise go unnoticed, leading to vision loss.
- Proliferative - This is the severe stage of diabetic retinopathy in which abnormal blood vessels grow on the retina and vitreous. These abnormal blood vessels are weak and may break, causing fluid to leak into the vitreous. Symptoms in the proliferative stage include floaters, blurry or cloudy vision, dark areas in field of vision, and faded colors. Those with proliferative diabetic retinopathy are also at risk of developing a retinal detachment or glaucoma.
How is diabetic retinopathy treated?
In the early stage of diabetic retinopathy, treatment may not be necessary. Rather, the eye doctor will monitor the health of your eye to take note of any changes. If the disease progresses to the more advanced stage, then treatment may become necessary. The main treatment options available include:
- Intravitreal injection - A medication is injected into the vitreous of the eye to help reduce swelling and minimize vision loss. This is performed as an in-office procedure. The number of injections needed will vary per individual.
- Laser surgery - This is an in-office procedure that uses a laser to seal the blood vessels, preventing further leakage into the retina. More than one laser treatment may be recommended.
- Vitrectomy - This is a surgery which is generally reserved for more advanced cases of proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Performed as an outpatient procedure, a vitrectomy removes the cloudy vitreous from the center of the eye. This allows light to properly reach the retina again for clearer vision. A gas bubble or saline is then injected to hold the retina in place.
Are diabetics more at risk of developing cataracts?
It is believed that high blood sugar levels may lead to cataracts. In fact, according to the National Eye Institute, diabetics are 2-5 times more likely to develop cataracts than non-diabetics. Diabetics may also develop cataracts at a younger age than non-diabetics
Are diabetics more at risk of developing glaucoma?
The risk of diabetics developing glaucoma is thought to be double that of non-diabetics. In addition, the risk of glaucoma can increase with age, therefore, the longer an individual has had diabetes, the more at risk they are of developing glaucoma.
How to prevent diabetic eye disease?
To help prevent diabetic eye disease, there are a few key areas to focus on:
- Control blood sugar - High blood sugar can cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina. Eating a healthy diet and exercising can help keep blood sugar in a normal range.
- Control blood pressure - Damage to the retina’s blood vessels can also be caused by high blood pressure. As with blood sugar, a healthy diet and exercise can maintain blood pressure in the recommended range.
- Get an annual eye exam - See your ophthalmologist or optometrist for a yearly comprehensive dilated eye exam. The sooner damage can be detected, the sooner it can be treated.
- Quit smoking - Smoking increases the risk of developing diabetic eye disease. Many programs are available to help support individuals in quitting smoking.