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A Closer Look at Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetic eye disease is a condition that many people know exists, but don't know very much about. Those who have diabetes are often in this situation as well. Here are some of those details so you know just what types of things an optometrist in Elkton & Clarksville will be looking for when doing a diabetic eye exam.

senior man getting diabetic eye exam

What is Diabetic Eye Disease?

Diabetes raises the risk of many types of eye problems, all of which can compromise sight, but when someone refers to "diabetic eye disease," they almost always mean diabetic retinopathy. This term refers to a cluster of retinal problems that diabetes promotes.

The retina is the part of the eye that works much like the film in a camera. When light hits it, it translates the image into electrical signals and sends those signals down the optic nerves to be translated back into images by the brain. If anything interferes with light getting to the retina or harms the retina itself, vision problems result. With diabetes, these problems are much more likely than normal.

Despite the catch-all name, there are actually a few retinal diseases that fall under the umbrella of diabetic retinopathy. The major ones are:

Nonproliferative retinopathy With this condition, the blood vessels in the eye weaken and begin to leak. Even so, you typically won't notice this on your own unless one leaks right in your field of vision. If it does, it will cause a blurry or blind spot. When enough of these spots develop, your vision will be severely compromised.

Proliferative retinopathy This is a worsened form of the nonproliferative type. With continued high blood sugar, the eye will be stimulated to grow more blood vessels on the retina. Unfortunately, this is not good. These are abnormal vessels that are exceptionally weak. This weakness is so great that vessels can start leaking even as you sleep. As before, leakage in the center of the retina can worsen your vision.

With proliferative retinopathy, scar tissue can form from all of the leaked blood and broken blood vessels in the eye. This tissue can pull on the retina, eventually detaching it and greatly increasing the chance of blindness. Sometimes, patients don't notice this disease until it is too late for treatment. That is one of the reasons it's so important to get regular eye exams.

Macular edema This is another form of diabetic eye disease. With it, the macula of the eye swells. "Macula" is the name for the center of the retina. Once it swells, your vision becomes very bad – to the point that legal blindness results.

What Causes Diabetic Eye Disease?

It is caused by high blood sugar (glucose). When your blood sugar is high, the small blood vessels in the eye are damaged. The problem is made worse by high blood pressure, which forces more fluid from the damaged vessels.

How is Diabetic Retinopathy Detected?

A dilated eye exam is the best tool for detecting these changes inside the eye. The pupils of your eyes are dilated, or widened, through the use of special eye drops. Then, the doctor can look into your eye well enough to see the retina, blood vessels, and other structures.

Other tests will likely be done as well so that any other diseases can be detected. Since diabetes raises the risk of glaucoma, it should be tested for during your exam. A test to detect whether your eye is draining properly and one that measures the pressure inside your eye should be expected. Eye doctors also test your visual acuity as standard practice.

Treatments for Diabetic Eye Disease

Fortunately, today's treatments are far more effective than the ones used years ago. Laser therapy can stop leakage and preserve vision. This treatment may need to be repeated every so often. Injections of medicine to stop the growth of new blood vessels can control the vessel proliferation seen in some forms of the disease. Also, surgical removal of the vitreous gel can improve vision if the retina has not yet been severely damaged.

It is important to emphasize that the success of treatment depends on catching these diseases early and beginning the treatments right away. Therefore, regular exams are essential to preserving your vision. To schedule an appointment, just call us here at the Sites Vision Clinic in Elkton or Clarksville today.

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