There are two leading diabetic ocular diseases that are necessary to understand if you have been diagnosed with diabetes.
Diabetic retinopathy affects blood vessels in the light-sensitive tissue called the retina that lines the back of the eye. These changes to blood vessels can cause them to bleed or leak fluid throughout the retina. This causes the retinal tissue to swell, resulting in cloudy or blurred vision. The longer a person has diabetes, the more likely they will develop diabetic retinopathy. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness. DR is the most common cause of vision loss among people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
DME is the build-up of fluid (edema) in a region of the retina called the macula. The macula is important for the sharp, straight-ahead vision that is used for reading, recognizing faces, and driving. DME is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetic retinopathy. About half of all people with diabetic retinopathy will develop DME. Although it is more likely to occur as diabetic retinopathy worsens, DME can happen at any stage of the disease.
When people with diabetes experience long periods of high blood sugar, fluid can accumulate in the lens inside the eye that controls focusing. This changes the curvature of the lens, leading to blurred vision. However, once blood sugar levels are controlled, blurred distance vision will improve. Patients with diabetes who can better control their blood sugar levels will slow the onset and progression of diabetic retinopathy.
Occasionally, symptoms may include having a dark or empty spot in the center of your vision, seeing “spots” or floaters that move throughout your vision, and blurring that occurs in the middle or just to the side of the central visual field. Often there are no symptoms in the early stages of diabetic ocular disease, so it is important that you don’t wait for symptoms to appear before having a comprehensive dilated eye exam.
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Treatment of diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema varies depending on the extent of the disease. People with DR and DME may need a referral for laser surgery to seal leaking blood vessels or to discourage other blood vessels from leaking. After laser surgery, each patient is rechecked several months after treatment and, if the diabetic macular edema is not responding to treatment, the laser treatment is repeated. The goal of treatment is to maintain current visual acuity and reduce the chances of progressive visual loss. Even with successful treatment, visual acuity often does not improve.
As it is with any diagnosis, taking medications prescribed by your primary care physician is essential. Avoiding alcohol, smoking, and controlling high blood pressure has been shown to lessen the chance of developing diabetic ocular diseases. A healthy diet of leafy greens and vegetables, as well as regular exercise, are vital to maintaining overall body health and function. Diabetic retinopathy can be diagnosed through a comprehensive dilated vision examination with emphasis on evaluating the retina and macula.
At Apple Eyecare, we continue to make it our goal to obtain the most recent diagnostic technology for many ocular diseases. Below is a list of services we provide for the prevention and management of diabetic ocular diseases.
Early detection and treatment of diabetic eye disease will dramatically reduce your chances of sustaining permanent vision loss. Schedule an appointment at our office if you have been recently diagnosed with or currently have diabetes. Yearly vision exams are vital to the early detection and management of ocular diseases.
To learn more about the differences between a routine vision exam vs a medical exam, click here.