Ask the Doc: Diabetic Eye Disease – How Does Diabetes Affect the Eyes?

Diabetic eye disease is a group of conditions that can affect people with diabetes. These conditions include diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema (DME).

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when chronically high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes cause damage to the tiny blood vessels in the retina. If you develop retinopathy, it may cause leakage or closure of capillaries (tiny blood vessels), or even growth of new, weak capillaries. There are two main types of diabetic retinopathy: nonproliferative retinopathy (blood vessels leak, then close) and proliferative retinopathy (new, weak blood vessels grow or proliferate). Diabetic retinopathy can develop rapidly and without early warning signs. In the early stages of both types of retinopathy, you may have little to no vision loss. As nonproliferative retinopathy develops, you may experience moderate to severe vision loss as fluid deposits and swelling occurs. With proliferative retinopathy, abnormal blood vessels can grow along the surface of the retina and eventually move into the fluid inside the eye known as the vitreous fluid. If these blood vessels are allowed to rupture and bleed, they may cloud or blur vision, leading to scarring and retinal detachment, which could cause a further decrease in or total loss in vision.

Diabetic retinopathy can lead to diabetic macular edema (DME) a buildup of fluid, also called edema, in a region of the retina called the macula. The macula is important for sharp, straight-ahead vision, required for reading, driving and facial recognition. DME is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetic retinopathy. Although it is most likely to occur as diabetic retinopathy worsens, DMA can happen during any stage of the disease.

People with all types of diabetes are at risk for diabetic retinopathy, and their level of risk increases the longer they have diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy and DME are detected during a comprehensive dilated eye exam. It is so very important, especially if you have diabetes, to see your ophthalmologist regularly. By seeing your ophthalmologist at least once a year, diabetic retinopathy can be diagnosed and treated early, before your vision is damaged. Controlling your blood sugar and blood pressure, eating a well-balanced diet and exercising routinely can also slow its development.

Please visit our website for information on treatment options. You can also call Illinois Eye Center at (309) 243-2400 to schedule your comprehensive dilated eye exam today.”

Dr. Min-Kyu Han, fellowship-trained physician specializing in diseases of the retina including macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinal detachment and retinal vascular diseases

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