Diabetic retinopathy is a deleterious effect of diabetes on the eyes. People with diabetes are at risk of developing this retinal disease, which can ultimately lead to blindness if left untreated. Diabetic retinopathy can be treated or prevented with lifestyle changes, medication or laser procedures if detected early. The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy will not become evident until permanent damage has already been done, so early detection is key. Because of this, patients who have diabetes should have an annual dilated eye exam, even if their vision appears to be fine. Diabetics can also be at a higher risk of developing cataracts. These annual dilated eye exams, even if vision appears to be fine, are the best way to monitor retinal health and cataracts to prevent permanent changes to vision.
If you are being examined for an eyeglass or contact lens prescription during your appointment, it is important to have the examination when your blood sugar is stable. Fluctuations in blood sugar can cause changes in your glasses prescription, so it is best to keep your blood sugar balanced for several days prior to your visit.
Who is at risk?
For any type of diabetes, there are two main risk factors for retinopathy: duration of the diabetes disease and how well blood sugar is controlled. Smoking and high blood pressure can also increase your risk. People who have had Type I diabetes for at least ten years have a higher risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Anyone who has Type II diabetes or borderline diabetes (“pre-diabetic”) should be seen for a baseline exam soon after the initial diagnosis, since signs and symptoms will not be noticeable until permanent damage has already occurred and retinopathy may be present at the first time of diagnosis. Eye exams should be performed on a yearly basis for any type of diabetes.
How does diabetes affect my eye?
When blood sugar levels are high, they can cause damage to vessels in the retina. This damage may cause leaking of serum that can accumulate in the center of the retina (called the macula). The result is “macular edema,” and it can reduce your ability to see fine details. If the disease progresses, abnormal vessels can develop on the surface of the retina. These vessels can also bleed or create scar tissue, leading to worsening eyesight, retinal detachments, and eventually a complete loss of vision.
Signs of diabetic retinopathy
Potential signs of diabetic retinopathy include:
- Hazy vision
- Missing spots of vision
- Double vision
If you have noticed some or all of these symptoms, please contact us as soon as possible to make an appointment. We will diagnose the issue and move forward with an appropriate treatment plan in order to help prevent future damage and preserve your remaining vision.
Diabetic retinopathy treatment options are available
If you have already experienced permanent vision damage due to diabetic retinopathy, there are certain medications that may be able to help prevent further damage to your eyesight. There are also gentle laser treatments available that can assist in retaining your existing vision. A low vision specialist can recommend equipment that can magnify or augment your ability to see. If you have diabetic retinopathy, early treatment and frequent follow-up care can reduce your risk of blindness by up to 95 percent.
How can I prevent diabetic retinopathy?
Maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, controlling your blood sugar, quitting smoking, watching your blood pressure, and receiving a yearly eye exam are all excellent ways to help reduce your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.
Contact Cascadia Eye
If you are diabetic or pre-diabetic, please contact us today to schedule your annual exam and to learn more about how diabetes can affect your eyes.