Diabetes, News

There are approximately 16 million Americans who have diabetes. All are at risk of developing sight-threatening eye diseases that are common complications of diabetes.

What is diabetic eye disease? Diabetic eye disease refers to the problems that can develop in the eye as a result of circulation damage caused by diabetes. It can affect all parts of the eye, but the retina is the part that is affected most and what most people think of when we refer to diabetic eye disease What is the most common diabetic eye disease? Diabetic retinopathy refers to the changes that we see in the retina and it goes through stages. Initially there are just some minor small hemorrhages, small spots of cholesterol development, blood vessels that are a little more tortuous than normal, called background or non-proliferative retinopathy. Most people who have this aren’t even aware that it is there. As the circulation becomes worse, two things can occur. One is that the circulation in the center part of vision, the macula, is not as good as it should be and the tissue starts to swell. This is called diabetic macular edema. Initially it may have no symptoms, but later people may notice blurry or wavy vision. The other problem that can develop is new blood vessels sprouting in response to poor circulation. That’s called proliferative retinopathy. The blood vessels are not healthy, good blood vessels so and they can lead to more problems down the road, like hemorrhaging in the eye and a detached retina.

How does diabetic retinopathy cause vision loss? The swelling in the center, the diabetic macular edema, actually causes the part of the eye that’s collecting the light and the images to be swollen. It becomes a bit bumpy, similar to projecting a picture on a movie screen that had bumps in it. You would not get a smooth picture because the projection screen is not smooth.

How is diabetic eye disease detected? It is important that everyone with diabetes has an eye exam at least once a year, which allows the eye doctor to determine the exact stage of diabetes. Visual acuity tests measure how well you see at various distances, and dilated eye exams allows your eye doctor to examine your retina and optic nerve for signs of damage and other eye problems. Your doctor checks your retina for early signs of the disease, including leaking blood vessels, retinal swelling (macular edema), pale, fatty deposits on the retina, damage nerve tissue and any changes to the blood vessels.