What is diabetic eye disease?

Diabetes has been a growing epidemic in the United States. It is estimated that approximately 24 million Americans have diabetes. Diabetes is a metabolic disorder where the body cannot utilize sugar properly and sugar levels in the blood may rise to dangerous levels. Diabetes may cause many serious physical conditions some which include the eye. Diabetic Retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease and a leading cause of blindness in American adults.

Early disease is often asymptomatic. However, as the disease progresses, significant vision changes may occur. Distortion, blurry vision, and even complete blindness may ensue. Displacement of the receptors within the retina can cause objects to look smaller, larger, blurred or distorted. Bleeding in the eye can optically block the incoming image. This may lead to the appearance of floaters or the impression that there is something blocking your vision. If you suddenly see spots in your vision, see your ophthalmologist as soon as possible. You may need treatment before more serious outcomes occur.

In patients with diabetes, there are several conditions that may affect the eye. As stated above, the most common effect of diabetes on the eye is Diabetic Retinopathy. The basic mechanism of Diabetic Retinopathy is damage to the small and medium size blood vessels. As a result, these blood vessels may start to leak fluid and may form little outpochings called microaneurysms. Bleeding may occur from these damaged blood vessels.

The second thing that occurs over time, is the small capillary beds are destroyed in the retina and the retina becomes deprived of oxygen needed for proper function of it’s cells. The retina sends chemical signals to the body to grow new blood vessels so that more blood can be brought to the retina. These blood vessels do form, but are often very frail and abnormal. They may easily shear and cause a vitreous hemorrhage or bleeding inside the eye. This is a very debilitating condition that may lead to blindness.

Other eye conditions that are related to diabetes are the premature formation of cataracts, glaucoma, and eye muscle dysfunction causing double vision. These are less frequently encountered but could still cause the need for treatment and management.

Treatment for diabetic eye disease depends on the stage and severity of the disease. Often, observation, strict sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol control is all that is needed. Cessation of smoking is a must for all diabetic patients. If significant swelling of the retinal or excessive bleeding occurs, laser treatment may be necessary to stop the bleeding and stabilize the retina. With significant bleeding and retinal traction and or detachment, surgical intervention is used to remove the blood in the eye and internally laser the retina. Even with the most optimal treatment, vision may be limited if significant destruction to the retinal has occurred.

Medical illustration of normal eye and an eye affected by diabetesFortunately, many of the manifestations of diabetic eye disease are avoidable with strict sugar control. Dr. Duzman suggests that you work diligently with your primary care doctor to control blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol so that eye disease and general health be optimized. Become familiar with your sugar levels and know which foods increase your sugar levels

Dr. Duzman strongly feels that a complete eye examination is required for anyone diagnosed with Diabetes or borderline Diabetes on a yearly basis. This needs to be done with an eye physician and surgeon, not an optometrist. During your visit with Dr. Duzman, please feel free to discuss all of your symptoms. Dr. Duzman will dilate your eyes to look for the retinal changes and may suggest a high definition digital retinal photograph for your records. Please call us or use the “contact us” function to schedule your appointment with Dr. Duzman for your eye examination