Diabetic retinopathy occurs when blood vessels in the eyes are damaged due to diabetes. Major blood vessels lie in front of the retina (which is located in the back of the eye), and if damaged, scar tissues could grow and fluid or blood leakage could occur. The retina's ability to detect and transmit images to the brain will be affected by the leakage and could cause complete loss of vision. If new blood vessels form in attempt to replace the old ones and damage the retina and create more bleeding, a retinal detachment1 could consequently cause vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy2 may also cause cataracts3.
In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, there are typically no symptoms. However, as the disease progresses, patients may report seeing floating debris (floaters) in the eyes. Double vision and difficulty to read could also occur. When sight begins to become impaired, the stage of proliferative retinopathy (bleeding of abnormal blood vessels into the eye) can occur.
Having diabetes does not translate into having diabetic retinopathy. However, the change in blood sugar level associated with diabetes affects the blood vessels in the eyes. The risk of diabetic eye disease changes increases for patients with 10 or more years of diabetes. Therefore, having a healthy diet with a moderate amount of exercise, and just as importantly, having an annual eye exam will all help to prevent diabetic retinopathy. Since there are usually no symptoms in the early stages of this disease, regular eye exams are vital.
During your visit, you will receive a set of dilation drops that will allow the pupil to enlarge. Through this dilated pupil, your doctor will be able to view the retina using highly specialized lenses. During this examination, the retina will be evaluated for bleeding, leakage, and abnormal blood vessel growth among other findings. If abnormalities are found, laser treatments, medications, and possibly even surgery may be necessary to remedy the condition. The doctors of Beach Eye Medical Group are experts in evaluating diabetes in the eye. They have a close working relationship with Retina specialists to provide the necessary treatment for your eyes to help preserve your vision for the long term. Some offices may take a picture of your retina as a substitute for an eye exam. Though a picture may be necessary in some cases, it is certainly not a good substitute for a thorough examination by a skilled provider. If you have diabetes, we will be happy to provide you with a comprehensive consultation to evaluate the current health of your eyes. We will then monitor the progress of your condition at regular intervals to ensure that your eyes remain healthy. We want you as our patient for the long-term. Contact us for an eye exam today!
1 At a glance: Retinal Detachment. Available: https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/retinal-detachment
2 Diabetic Retinopathy: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment. Available: https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-is-diabetic-retinopathy
3 Cataracts. Available: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cataracts/symptoms-causes/syc-20353790
Written by Dr. Shah