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People with diabetes are at an increased risk of developing eye problems that can lead to vision loss and blindness – more than 40 percent of people with diabetes will develop some form of diabetic eye disease. Even further, diabetes is a 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.

Causes

Diabetic eye problems develop from high blood sugar levels, which can damage blood vessels in the eye. When there is too little oxygen in the bloodstream, blood vessel abnormalities occur, which can lead to hemorrhages and permanent damage to the retina.

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.

Diagnosis

Diabetic eye problems can be diagnosed with a comprehensive eye exam. 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 a leading cause of blindness in the United States. 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.

Treatments

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.

However, there are options available for relief from diabetic eye conditions at Oregon Eye Specialists. While these procedures cannot cure diabetic eye conditions, they can help reduce vision loss in advanced diabetic eye disease.

For more advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy, laser surgery is often effective in shrinking the abnormal blood vessels. 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.

FAQ’s

What to know about diabetes and vision damage

If you have diabetes or know someone who does, you may be aware that extra vigilance is needed to ensure good health. Those experiencing diabetes must take extra care to eat healthful foods, get regular exercise and quality rest, and keep an extra close eye on their heart, eyes and feet.

No patient is alone.

Why the eyes? The prevalence of diabetes is growing with the population. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cited 12 percent of American have diabetes, with 1.7 million new cases diagnosed each year. And with it, complications that could produce other health challenges, including vision loss or damage. The CDC also stated diabetic retinopathy as the leading cause of blindness among adults aged 20 to 74 years. The American Academy of Ophthalmology cites 80 percent of those with diabetes eventually develop diabetic retinopathy.

Oregon Eye Specialists wants to remind our patients this information is important. If you have any questions or concerns about managing your diabetes or your vision, call the clinic. Let’s talk. We can do a simple, non-invasive eye test here in the office to determine if you might need to see an eye specialist.

Here are some questions you might have and answers you might need.

Q:  What is ‘diabetic retinopathy’?

A:  The Mayo Clinic defines it this way: Diabetic retinopathy is a diabetes complication that affects eyes. It’s caused by damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye (retina). At first, diabetic retinopathy may cause no symptoms or only mild vision problems. Without proper care and treatment, it worsens in stages.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, currently about 60% of people with diabetes have yearly screenings for diabetic retinopathy. People with Type 1 diabetes should have annual screenings for diabetic retinopathy beginning 5 years after the onset of their disease, whereas those with Type 2 diabetes should have a prompt examination at the time of diagnosis and at least yearly examinations thereafter.

Q: How do eye doctors test for diabetic retinopathy?

A:  In an eye specialists office, you can be tested by a number of diagnostic tools such as visual acuity testing, eye dilation, test of ocular pressures, and tomography that uses light waves to capture images of the back of the inside of your eye. The type of specialized testing you need may depend on the stage of the disease. The goal of any treatment is to slow or stop the progression of the disease and preserve your eyesight.  If the disease advances, the blood vessels can leak blood and fluid into the retina, leading to macular swelling. Laser treatment (‘photocoagulation’) can stop this leakage.                                                             

Q: How do I know I’m at risk for diabetic retinopathy? Should I be concerned?

A: Per the Mayo Clinic, anyone who has diabetes can develop diabetic retinopathy. Risk of developing the eye condition can increase as a result of duration of diabetes (the longer you have diabetes, the greater your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy) and poor control of your blood sugar level. Other non-eye-related complications can arise from uncontrolled diabetes, as well.

Q: How can my primary care doctor help me if I have diabetes?

A: Your primary care doctor can help you with important strategies to help and teach you how you can manage your diabetes. Sometimes lifestyle changes are needed. Your physician can give you support and point you to resources so you can get educated about this disease and maximize your success at managing it.

Q: Can I get screening eye exam at my primary care doctor’s office for diabetic retinopathy?

A: Here at the Oregon Eye Specialists, PC, yes. We are working with other primary care practices and eye specialists to conduct a screening eye exam here at my office. This test is simply and quickly done, with a hand-held camera. The camera is held up close (but not touching your eye) to shoot a photo. This photo is then uploaded in a digital format so an eye specialist, who is an ophthalmologist with expertise in diabetic eye disease, can determine if you need further evaluation by an eye specialist.

This is an important opportunity for those with diabetes because this simple photo screening could show if you have any vision loss or damage. If you do, we will want to make sure you get treatment by an eye specialist to prevent any further vision problems.

At Oregon Eye Specialists, PC, we will help you with your diabetes to coordinate your care with us to make sure you have the resources and care you need.

Other Resources

We are proud to endorse Priority Footwear, the Pacific Northwest’s largest provider of therapeutic footwear and custom inserts for diabetics, offering one on-one consultation, customized footwear solutions and health insurance processing management.

Our doctors are experienced in treating patients with diabetes. Contact Oregon Eye Specialists today to learn more about diabetic eye problems.

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