Diabetic Eye Disease
The elevated blood sugar levels caused by diabetes can damage the eyes in many ways.
Diabetes Mellitus is becoming one the leading causes of vision loss in working-aged adults in the United States. The elevated blood sugar levels caused by diabetes can damage the eyes in many ways, and patients may experience fluctuating and blurred vision. Elevated blood sugars or large fluctuations in blood sugar affect the lens within the eye, causing it to swell and become less flexible, which affects one’s ability to focus and see clearly. These changes can hasten the development of cataracts, prompting the need for cataract surgery at a younger age.
The leading cause of irreversible vision loss in individuals with diabetes is diabetic retinopathy. The elevated blood sugar levels cause thickening and occlusions of the small fragile blood vessels in the retina, which is the nerve tissue within the eye that captures the visual image. These small occlusions lead to a cascade of events resulting in vision loss. The blocked blood vessels leak blood (hemorrhages), protein (exudates), and fluid (edema) in the retina. These leaky blood vessels can cause swelling in the central part of the retina, called the macula, which is responsible for reading and discriminating small print. Some patients with macular edema can be treated by a focal laser treatment performed in our office. This procedure aims to preserve the remaining vision.
The blocked blood vessels can also lead to retinal ischemia, which is a decrease in blood flow (perfusion) to the retina leading to irreversible vision loss. These ischemic areas in the retina can cause erratic new blood vessel growth called neovascularization. These new blood vessels can bleed in the back portion of the eye and fill the eye with blood. This is known as a vitreous hemorrhage, which results in a sudden loss of vision and can be associated with a retinal detachment. Depending on the severity of the bleeding, extensive laser treatment or intraocular surgery may be necessary.
Unfortunately, diabetic retinopathy cannot be cured by laser or surgery. These treatments help to decrease the severity of the disease, but they cannot reverse the damage that is already present. Controlling blood sugar is the proven method to delay the onset or slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy. Because a patient can have diabetic retinopathy without any visual symptoms, the American Diabetic Association recommends regular screening eye examinations at least once a year. Our experienced Eye MD’s will determine if you need more frequent examinations and will communicate the findings of your eye examination to your primary care doctor.
The physicians of Northwest Eye Clinic perform diagnostic testing and treatment and take the time necessary to provide each patient with the information needed to understand their condition to achieve the best possible outcome. If you, a family member, or a friend have not had a recent eye examination, please take a moment to call and schedule an appointment.