People Living With Diabetes Have an Increased Risk of DevelopingMany Eye Diseases, Including Diabetic Retinopathy
Annual eye exams are a must if you have diabetes. In addition to being at risk for diabetic eye disease (a group of conditions that affect people living with diabetes), you are also at greater risk for other diseases like glaucoma.
If you live with diabetes, you have additional requirements associated with staying on top of your health. Even if you have no obvious eye problems, annual eye exams should be part of your routine. Unfortunately, eyesight lost is rarely recovered. For this reason, prevention is key.
Nearly half of all people with diabetes have some form of diabetic retinopathy, though only half of those people are aware of it. The value of early detection and treatment of eye diseases is quite high: staying on top of your eye health with regular exams can reduce the risk of blindness by as much as 95%.
A diabetic eye exam is more comprehensive than a regular eye exam. Your eyes are dilated used special eye drops to enable the Optometrist to clearly see the back of your eye as well as the formation of blood vessels on the retina and macula.
Diabetic eye disease is a term that mainly refers to diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema (DME). However, cataracts and glaucoma are also included in this grouping due to the significantly increased risk of people with diabetes have for developing them.
The most well-known disease under the “diabetic eye disease” grouping, diabetic retinopathy is a serious disease that can cause significant vision impairment and blindness.
It has four stages:
- Mild nonproliferative – Microaneurysms occur in blood vessels in the retina, potentially leaking fluid on to the retina. This can cause blurry vision.
- Moderate nonproliferative – Blood vessels in the retina swell, inhibiting blood flow to the retina.
- Severe nonproliferative – Due to being starved of blood, new blood vessels form in the retina. These blood vessels are typically weak and cause further damage.
- Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) – Weak blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina and into the vitreous gel. When they die they leave behind scar tissue, which can then cause retinal detachment.
Diagnosing diabetic retinopathy/DME is done during a dilated eye exam. Tests include:
- Visual acuity testing
- Spectralis OCT testing
Treatment centers around blocking or reducing the formation of abnormal blood vessels. Anti-VEGF injection therapy is an effective first-step for both retinopathy and DME. In this therapy, anti-VEGF medication is injected into the vitreous gel to block the formation of abnormal blood vessels.
Corticosteroids are also used in treating DME. However, prolonged use can further increase the risk of glaucoma.
Laser surgery is also used to treat DME/PDR, though with less effectiveness than anti-VEGF therapy. Hundreds (or even thousands) of small laser burns are made on the retina, causing abnormal blood vessels to shrink.
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