How does diabetes affect the eyes?

Generally, high blood sugar is bad for blood vessels, somewhat similar to running an automobile engine with old, sludgy oil, because it increases the stickiness and viscosity of blood. High blood sugar, over long periods of time, is particularly bad for small blood vessels, such as those behind the back of the eye or retina.

When damaged, these tiny blood vessels can leak blood and/or fluid and cause problems – sometimes very serious problems – with vision. When this occurs, we call it diabetic retinopathy.

What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?

The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy are similar to those of ‘wet form’ age-related macular degeneration. In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, there are no symptoms. However, as the disease progresses, moderate or severe vision loss can occur, sometimes very rapidly, which is why it is good to screen regularly for this disease if you are a diabetic.

Do all diabetics have diabetic retinopathy?

No. The best way to prevent diabetic retinopathy is keep very good control of blood sugars. Diabetics who manage their diabetes well will seldom develop diabetic retinopathy. Of course, nothing is certain with diabetic retinopathy. Having regular eye exams with an ophthalmologist is important to catching the disease early to halt disease progression.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is responsible for a large percentage of adult-onset blindness. When you have diabetes your body isn’t able to use and store sugar properly. Blood vessels in the retina can be damaged by high blood sugar levels. This damage to retinal vessels is referred to as diabetic retinopathy. There are two different types of diabetic retinopathy: nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy and proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy can be diagnosed and treated by your ophthalmologist. During your medical eye evaluation, your eyes will be dilated so that the doctor can look inside your eye to determine if you have diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic Retinopathy Treatments

The most effective method of slowing the progression of diabetic retinopathy is by controlling your blood sugar levels. If you are diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy your doctor may suggest treating you with intravitreal injections which are designed to shrink the swelling of the macula. Laser surgery is another treatment option your doctor may recommend. A vitrectomy is an option with a high success rate for patients with advanced proliferative diabetic retinopathy because it allows those who are insulin-dependent to recover a great deal of visual acuity. The important thing to note is that with early detection of diabetic retinopathy, a small percentage of people have serious vision problems. You can lower your risk of vision loss by visiting your ophthalmologist regularly (at least once per year) and maintaining strict control of your blood sugar levels.