More than 28 percent of diabetics age 40 or older in the U.S. have Diabetic Retinopathy and related diabetic eye disease. Because eye doctors have an unobstructed view of the retina and blood vessels through dilated eye exams or retinal photos they are often the first to diagnose chronic systemic conditions like diabetes.
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that interferes with the body’s ability to use and store sugar. The food we eat is converted into glucose, or sugar, and used for energy. Diabetes impairs the ability to produce and respond to a hormone called insulin which helps the body process sugar. This causes a buildup in the body and can lead to serious health problems like heart disease, kidney failure, lower extremity amputation and blindness.
There are two types of diabetes. In Type 1 diabetes you are considered insulin-dependent because injections or other medications are required to supply the insulin your body is unable to produce on its own. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. In Type 2 diabetes, the most common type, the body becomes insulin-resistant. Although you produce insulin your body is unable to make proper use of it. The percentage of adults with Type 2 diabetes increases in people 65 years or older.
Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) is the most common form of diabetic eye disease. It occurs when high levels of blood sugar cause changes that damage the tiny blood vessels in the retina, which makes them leak fluid or hemorrhage (bleed). Without proper blood flow the retina can become damaged and lead to permanent vision loss. Diabetes can also cause new growth of abnormal blood vessels in the retina which can break and bleed into the clear gel filling the middle of the eye, the vitreous, causing sudden vision loss.
Diabetic Macular Edema (DME) is a complication of DR. In DME, the fluid leaked from the damaged blood vessels causes swelling in the center of the retina, the macula. The macula is the most sensitive part of the retina that is responsible for central vision. DME is the primary cause of vision loss associated with DR and is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults.
In the early stages of DR there are often no symptoms, but as it progresses it can cause spots or floaters in your vision, blurred and/or distorted vision, fluctuating vision, double vision and cataracts. In the early stages it is important to monitor the condition with an eye exam every six months and control the blood sugar with diet and exercise. Treatment in advanced stages includes eye injections and laser surgery. People with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are at risk for DR and vision loss. Additional risk factors include race (Hispanics and African Americans are at higher risk), high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and pregnancy.
Because Diabetic Retinopathy can go undiagnosed until it causes vision loss, an annual eye exam is recommended for all diabetics. Early detection and treatment are key in the management and control of diabetes and diabetic eye disease so schedule your appointment with Vista Eye Care today.