ABC’s of Diabetic Eye Disease

Author: Dr. Jordan Graff

diabetic retinopathy retina

Managing diabetes requires special attention to personal health and irregular symptoms. However, not all complications caused by diabetes are obvious. Diabetic eye disease leading to diabetic retinopathy, cataract, and glaucoma can be sight-threatening if it is not identified and treated early. Regular eye care visits with an optometrist or ophthalmologist should be part of a diabetic’s management routine in addition to daily monitoring and primary care visits.

The following facts and reminders can prevent diabetic eye disease from developing:

Asymptomatic: People that have diabetics can develop severe eye diseases through minor eye disorders that often show no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. As a result, diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease and is the leading cause of blindness in American adults ages 20 to 74, according to the National Eye Institute. All people with diabetes –type 1 and type 2 – are at risk of diabetic retinopathy. Those diagnosed with diabetes should not wait for the symptoms to appear, as there is no pain and vision may not change until the disease becomes severe.

Book annual dilated eye exams: All patients that have diabetes should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year for early detection. Since there are no symptoms, an eye health specialist can recognize and diagnose the following through a dilated eye exam:

Cataract – a clouding of the lens of the eye. Diabetes can cause cataracts in patients at a much younger age. Typically cataracts affect those between the ages of 70 and 80; however, those with diabetes can contract the disease as early as 35.

Micro aneurysms are tiny dots of hemorrhaging in the back of the eye.

Macular edema occurs when the macula (the part of the retina that provides sharp, central vision) swells from leaking fluid and microaneurysms. This can lead to vision loss if new vessels have grown on the retina’s surface and bleed into the eye, blocking vision.

Diabetic retinopathy is damage to the blood vessels in the retina. For some, blood vessels may swell and leak fluid; in others, abnormal blood vessels may grow on the retina’s surface. The sprouting of new and abnormal vessels is called neovascularization, which does not supply proper blood flow.

Retinal detachment occurs when the retina is lifted or pulled from its normal position. The retina lines the inside of the eye and sends visual messages through the optic nerve to the brain. Retinal detachments can cause permanent vision loss if not promptly treated.

Control with treatment: Diabetic eye disease and diabetic retinopathy can be treated with medications and delicate surgical treatments, such as lasers. Patients can protect their vision with continued annual eye exams, regular meetings with their physicians, and proper management of weight, blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol management. Eventually, the mass majority of diabetics will develop eye disease; however early detection can reduce the risk of vision loss by 95 percent, according to the National Eye Institute.

Dr. Jordan Graff is a board-certified ophthalmologist specializing in diseases and surgery of the retina and vitreous.

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