Diabetes is a disease that interferes with the body’s ability to use and store sugar, which left untreated leads to many health problems including damage to the eyes. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults between 20 and 65 years of age. An estimated 8.2 million Americans have undiagnosed diabetes and 1.9 million new cases are diagnosed each year. As you see, diabetes a serious, life-threatening disease has reached epidemic proportions. Almost 26 million adults and children in the U.S. are living with this disease and another 79 million are pre-diabetic.
How does diabetes affect the eyes? Diabetes causes a condition called diabetic retinopathy, which leads to progressive damage to the retina, the light-sensitive lining of the back of the eye. Diabetic retinopathy is the result of damage to the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina. They leak blood and fluids that cause swelling of retinal tissue and clouding of vision. This usually affects both eyes. The longer a person has diabetes the more likely they are to develop diabetic retinopathy. The better your blood sugar levels are controlled the less likely you are to develop diabetic retinopathy. If left untreated, it can cause blindness.
Treatment for diabetic retinopathy depends on the stage of the disease and is directed at trying to slow or stop the progression. In the early stages, regular monitoring may be all that is required. Often, there are no visual symptoms in the early stages. Following Dr. Greenberg’s advice for diet and exercise and keeping blood sugar levels well-controlled can help control the progression.
If the disease advances, the leaking of blood and fluids can lead to macular edema. The macula is the part of the retina responsible for clear central vision. Although small, the macula is the part of the retina that allows us to see colors and fine detail. The fluid causes the macula to swell, causing blurred vision. Laser treatment (photocoagulation) is performed in the office to stop the leaking blood vessels.
If you are a diabetic, only you can prevent the development of diabetic retinopathy by taking your prescribed medication, watch your diet, exercise regularly, control high blood pressure and avoid alcohol and smoking. Dr. Greenberg recommends anyone with diabetes have a dilated eye exam once a year. If you do have diabetic retinopathy early detection and treatment can limit the potential for significant vision loss from this serious sight-threatening disease.