More than 29 million people in the United States have diabetes, and it is estimated that as many as one in four of those afflicted don’t even know that they have it. Many of these men and women may already be beginning to suffer the effects of diabetic eye disease, or diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that is also one of the leading causes of blindness in the world. Early detection, timely treatment, and appropriate follow-up care of diabetic eye disease can help protect against permanent vision loss, but understanding more about the condition itself is vital to knowing where to begin. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about diabetic retinopathy.
What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?
Unfortunately, during the earliest stages, diabetic retinopathy usually has no symptoms. That is just one of the many reasons why it is so vital that patients undergo regularly scheduled comprehensive eye exams to catch not only diabetic retinopathy but also a variety of other potentially serious vision conditions before they can permanently impair vision. Eventually, patients begin to see dark “floating” spots in their field of vision. While these “floaters” can sometimes clear on their own, over time they grow larger and more numerous, until they reach the point that they obscure vision almost completely. Patients with diabetic retinopathy often also experience diabetic macular edema, which can cause generalized blurring of the vision as well.
What causes diabetic retinopathy?
Chronically high blood sugar levels can, over time, start to damage the walls of the blood vessels. The effects of this damage are often first felt in the tiny blood vessels that nourish the cells of the retina at the back of the eye. When the vessel walls weaken, blood and fluid starts to leak out and into the eye itself. This blood forms floating clots between the lens and the retina, accounting for the dark “floating” spots. As the disease progresses, the blood vessels that nourish the retina may swell and distort, losing their ability to transport blood. Both conditions cause a build-up of fluid in the macula, the central region of the retina responsible for processing sharp, detail vision, which in turn accounts for the general blurriness that may also occur.
How can people with diabetes protect their vision?
Studies have shown that controlling diabetes through diet and exercise can slow the onset and worsening of diabetic retinopathy, and that early detection and treatment can reduce the risk of blindness by up to 95 percent. Comprehensive eye exams are needed more frequently as diabetic retinopathy becomes more severe. Those with the most advanced cases may require an exam as often as every two to four months because rate at which the disease progresses may change and the condition of the eyes may rapidly deteriorate.
If you are concerned that a long term health condition like diabetes may be affecting your vision, or if you have concerns about other vision-related problems like glaucoma or cataracts, please contact Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons to schedule an eye exam with Dr. William Segal or Dr. Marc Lay today. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more information on how to keep your vision healthy.