Illinois Eye Center

Ask the Doc: What Impact Does Diabetes Have on My Eye Health?

“Diabetes is often associated with health problems like cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, skin conditions and coronary artery disease, but there are also eye conditions that could develop as a result of diabetes.

Diabetic eye disease is a group of conditions that can affect people with diabetes. These include conditions like diabetic retinopathy (DR), which occurs when chronically high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes cause damage to the tiny blood vessels, called capillaries, in the retina. If you develop diabetic retinopathy, it may cause leakage or closure of capillaries or even the growth of new, weaker capillaries.

There are two types of diabetic retinopathy: nonproliferative retinopathy (blood vessels leak and then close) and proliferative retinopathy (new, weak blood vessels grow or proliferate). DR can develop rapidly, without any early warning signs.

In the early stages of both proliferative and nonproliferative, you may have little to no vision loss. As nonproliferative develops, you may begin to experience moderate to severe vision loss as bleeding and swelling of the retina occurs. DR can also lead to diabetic macular edema (DME), a buildup of fluid (edema) in a region of the retina known as the macula. The macula is important for sharp, straight-ahead vision required for facial recognition, driving and reading. 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, DME can happen during any stage of the disease.

With proliferative, abnormal blood vessels can grow along the surface of the retina, and eventually move into the fluid inside the eye known as vitreous fluid. If these blood vessels are allowed to rupture and bleed, they may make vision cloudy or blurred, leading to scarring, retinal detachment, and a further decrease in or total loss of vision.

People with all types of diabetes are at risk for diabetic retinopathy, and their level of risk increases the longer they have diabetes. DR and DME are detected during a comprehensive dilated eye exam. This is why 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.

If you’ve been diagnosed with DR, your ophthalmologist may recommend laser treatment. During this treatment, a laser beam, is focused onto the diseased areas in your retina to reduce swelling, destroy closed blood vessels or seal weak vessels. If your retina already has extensive damage caused by proliferative diabetic retinopathy, your doctor may advise a vitrectomy, which is the surgical removal of the vitreous (fluid inside the eye). This may be necessary to remove blood from the inner eye and to cut away scar tissue that may be pulling on the retina.

Your ophthalmologist can provide more detailed information about which treatment is best for your diagnosis and explain the benefits and risks of each procedure. For more information on treatment options and to schedule an eye exam, call Illinois Eye Center at (309) 243-2400 today.”

– Dr. Pete Lagouros, fellowship trained specialist in Vitreo-retinal diseases.

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