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Diabetic Eye Care

People with diabetes are at an increased risk of developing eye problems that can lead to vision loss and blindness. Diabetic eye problems include diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and glaucoma. In fact, diabetes is actually the leading cause of blindness in the United States.

Diabetic eye problems often develop without any noticeable vision loss or pain. This means the eye might already be significantly damaged by the time people notice any symptoms. For this reason, it is important for people with diabetes to have their eyes examined at least once a year. Early detection of diabetic eye disease can help prevent permanent damage.

Diabetic eye problems develop from high blood sugar levels, which can damage blood vessels in the eye. More than 40 percent of people with diabetes will develop some form of diabetic eye disease. The risk of diabetic eye problems can be reduced through regular diabetic eye exams and by controlling blood sugar levels through a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Cause of Diabetic Eye Conditions

Diabetic eye problems develop in the retina because of abnormalities in tiny blood vessels. (The retina is the thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye that forms images.) These blood vessel abnormalities develop when there is too little oxygen in the blood. This causes the retinal blood vessels to swell and begin to leak. As new blood vessels develop, they also leak blood. This can cause hemorrhages and permanent damage to the retina.

Diagnosing Diabetic Eye Conditions

Diabetic eye problems can be found with a comprehensive eye exam. A diabetic eye exam includes a visual acuity test to measure vision at various distances and a dilated eye exam to examine the structures of the eye for signs of disease. During this test, your doctor can examine the retina and optic nerve with a special magnifying lens. Tonometry may also be performed during a comprehensive eye exam. This measures the pressure inside the eye with a special instrument.

People with diabetes need a comprehensive eye exam at least once a year or as soon as any potential problems are found. This can help ensure early detection of any serious diabetic eye problems. Early detection is the strongest protection against diabetic eye disease.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common type of diabetic eye disease and the leading cause of blindness in the US. This condition is caused by blood vessel changes within the retina that lead to swelling and leaking of fluid. It can also cause growth of abnormal new blood vessels on the surface of the retina. There are four stages of diabetic retinopathy, starting with the occurrence of microaneurysms (blood vessels that swell and leak) and ending with the development of abnormal blood vessels on the retinal surface. These blood vessels can easily leak fluid, causing severe vision loss and even blindness.

Sometimes, the fluid from abnormal blood vessels leaks into the center of the macula (the center of the retina) and causes swelling and blurred vision. This condition is called macular edema. The risk of developing macular edema increases as diabetic retinopathy progresses.

Treatment of Diabetic Eye Conditions

Treatment for early stages of diabetic retinopathy and other forms of diabetic eye disease usually focuses on maintaining blood sugar, blood pressure and blood cholesterol at the healthiest levels possible in order to prevent permanent eye damage. For more advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy, laser surgery is often effective in shrinking the abnormal blood vessels. Doctors can do a treatment called scatter laser treatment that places more than 1,000 tiny laser burns in the area of the retina. It usually takes two or more treatments to fully remove the blood vessels.

Macular edema can be treated with a laser procedure called focal laser treatment. This treatment places hundreds of tiny laser burns in the area of retinal leakage to reduce the amount of fluid in the retina. This treatment only requires one appointment.

Laser treatments can be done in your eye doctor’s office. They are done with anesthetic eye drops to minimize pain during the procedure. Patients may experience blurry vision for the rest of the day and should rest at home. It is important for people with diabetes to realize that these procedures cannot cure diabetic eye problems, but rather help reduce vision loss in advanced diabetic eye disease.

Contact Oregon Eye Specialists to learn more about diabetic eye problems, or call us at 503-935-5880.

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