Questions about Diabetic Eye Care

How does diabetes effect the eye?

In many ways. It can predispose to conditions such as cataracts (link) and glaucoma (link), but can also cause problems with the retina called diabetic retinopathy.

What is the Retina?

The retina is the inner lining of the back of the eye. If you think of the eye like a camera, the retina is like the film in a camera. Light from the front of the eye is focused onto the retina so you can see it.

Why is it important to have my eyes examined every year when I have diabetes?

Diabetes causes damage to the blood vessels throughout the body, but the retina is the only part of the body where they can be seen. If there are problems with these blood vessels (diabetic retinopathy) we can alert your other doctors. Also, problems with these blood vessels can cause permanent vision loss if not treated early.

But won’t I have symptoms if I have diabetic retinopathy?

Not in the early stages. If the retinopathy progresses to a certain point then you might have symptoms.

What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?

In most cases there are no symptoms until it has gotten fairly advanced. These symptoms generally include blurry or distored vision, floaters or loss of vision.

How do I know if I have diabetic retinopathy?

By having a dilated ophthalmology exam one a year.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

There are different forms. When the blood vessels in the retina are damaged from diabetes they can start to bleed or leak fluid into the retina. In both cases you will eventually start to have vision problems if it continues to worsen. Extensive damage can even lead to scar tissue and retinal detachment, a very serious vision-threatening complication.

What is non-proliferative or background diabetic retinopathy?

This is when the blood vessels in the retina are damaged and can be seen as tiny blood spots in the retina. Usually there are no symptoms at this stage unless there is also swelling of the retina called macular edema.

What is macular edema, or diabetic macular edema?

This is when the damaged blood vessels start to leak fluid into the retina causing the vision to become blurry or distorted.

What is proliferative diabetic retinopathy?

This is when unhealthy new blood vessels grow into the retina. They are prone to problems such as bleeding or retinal detachments.

Are there symptoms of a proliferative diabetic retinopathy?

Not always. Only if the abnormal blood vessels begin to bleed or detach the retina. If they are caught before these complications occur, treatments can begin to help prevent serious vision problems.

What can be done about diabetic retinopathy?

Sometimes if caught early it can regress (get better) by working with your other doctors on your blood sugar. There are several treatments including diabetic laser treatments and injections of medication into the eye that are done in the office that can help to stabilize the retinopathy. Occasionally diabetic retinopathy requires a more extensive surgery in the operating room.

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