Diabetes: Keep an eye on vision problems

IF YOU HAVE DIABETES, you already know it raises your risk for some serious complications. One is diabetic retinopathy, an eye disease that can cause blindness if it isn’t treated. Since diabetic retinopathy is the most common eye problem for people with diabetes, it’s important to do all you can to protect your vision.

Wreckage in the retina
Diabetic retinopathy is a type of damage to the retina – the tissue that lines the inside of the eye. The damage happens because high blood glucose and high blood pressure can cause the tiny blood vessels in the retina to swell, close off or leak fluid. New blood vessels may grow to replace the damaged ones. The new ones are weaker, and they might also leak.

When blood or fluid leaks into the jellylike substance inside the eye – called the vitreous humor – it can block vision or cause blurred or double vision. Eventually, this can lead to blindness.

However, when diabetic retinopathy is in its early stages, you probably won’t notice a thing – no pain, no vision loss. Such problems may not emerge until the disease has become severe.

Damage control
“If you’re diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy it usually takes 10 years for the disease to show up. It’s important to have your physician examine you and discuss the treatments that are available,” says Carl Rosen, MD, an ophthalmologist. The same things you do to help control your diabetes can help protect your eyes. That includes working to keep your blood pressure and blood glucose at safe levels. But even if your diabetes is well-controlled, you should see an ophthalmologist every year for a dilated eye exam.

If your ophthalmologist diagnoses diabetic retinopathy, you may need:
✓Laser treatment to close off leaking blood vessels; and
✓A vitrectomy, which is surgery to remove fluid and blood from the vitreous humor.

“Additionally, there are also new methods of detecting the disease, such as a telediabetic retinoscopy screening, which can be done with a mobile phone and will make it possible to examine and treat more people earlier,” Dr. Rosen adds.

The sooner you’re diagnosed with retinopathy, the more likely your treatment will prevent blindness. So, at least once a year, have your ophthalmologist gaze deeply into your eyes. It’s the only way to find out what’s going on inside.