Anyone with diabetes will tell you that it can be a hard disease to deal with. According to the American Diabetes Association, in 2008 4.2 million Americans over the age of 40 had diabetic retinopathy. We’re won’t sugar coat this. Diabetic retinopathy is a scary disease, but it is treatable and preventable. You had no choice in developing diabetes, but you have a choice in keeping your eyes healthy.
Diabetic Retinopathy and its Symptoms
Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition that affects the retina. A severe case of diabetic retinopathy can lead to loss of vision if not treated properly or at all. The general rule of thumb is that the longer you’ve had diabetes, the more at-risk you are to develop diabetic retinopathy. This disease can affect people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Diabetic retinopathy will cause the vessels in the eye to leak blood and other fluids. This will cause the retina to swell, which will lead to blurred or cloudy vision. Normally, the leaking will affect both eyes.
Sometimes fluid can accumulate in the eye, when someone goes through long periods with high blood sugar. This can affect the lens as the extra fluid will affect the curve. Though this will lead to blurred vision, once the blood sugar is back under control, vision should get better as the fluid drains out.
There are some symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, although not many. There aren’t even any visual symptoms. If you’re diabetic it’s important to really pay close attention to possible symptoms.
Some symptoms you may experience are:
- Blurred vision
- Spots or floaters in your vision
- Reduced night vision
- Dark spot in your central vision
If you experience two or more of these symptoms, talk to your eye doctor about getting a comprehensive dilated eye exam. This will let your doctor get a better look at the back of the eye to assess the progress of the disease.
Causes of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy is largely caused when blood sugar is too high for extended periods of time. Continuously high blood sugar will inevitably lead to damage in the blood vessels in the eyes. Once damaged, the vessels will begin to leak.
Sometimes new vessels will grow in the eye to make up for the damaged ones, but these new ones risk blocking your vision. Because they are abnormal vessels, they will often leak back into the eye.
Diabetic retinopathy is often classified in two types: non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) and proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR).
NPDR marks the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. Often symptoms will be minimal or non-existent in this stage. However, blood vessels are weak and may leak fluids, causing the macula of the eye to swell.
PDR refers to the later stages of the disease. At this point, oxygen is limited in the retina because of poor blood circulation. This is the stage that the new blood vessels begin to grow and cloud your vision. If left untreated, this can lead to the detachment of the retina and eventual blindness.
Unfortunately there is no sure-fire cure for diabetic retinopathy. The most common treatment is to burn the vessels at the back of the eye, searing them shut. This is often done with a laser. However, like any invasive eye surgery there is a chance that the problems may come back. Burning the back of the eye, even if it is controlled, is nonetheless a dangerous risk.
However, in the NPDR stage of the disease the only treatment needed may be constant monitoring of the disease. Your doctor will be able to recommend dietary changes, exercise and how to keep your blood sugar under control. The goal here is to slow the progress of the disease so that it does not reach the PDR stage.
Recently, it was found that a three year implant in the eye may be the solution to every diabetic’s eye problems. The FDA recently approved Iluvien as a way for diabetics to easily keep up with eye care.
The best way to keep this disease from affecting you is to prevent it. For those with diabetes but not diabetic retinopathy, preventing it is easier than you think. All it takes is a few lifestyle changes that will keep your eyes healthy and your diabetes under control.
The very best way to prevent diabetic retinopathy is to get that blood sugar under control and to keep it under control. You can accomplish this by adopting a healthy diet and by regularly checking your blood sugar levels. Make sure to take the right medications and insulin.
Another way to prevent this eye disease is to kick that smoking habit. Studies have shown that smoking and being exposed to second hand smoke can increase complications for diabetics. This includes vision complications. If you’re having trouble quitting, the American Lung Association has some great facts and tips to help.
Along with keeping blood sugar in check, it’s also important to keep your blood pressure in control. Though there is no direct link connecting high blood pressure to diabetic retinopathy; high blood pressure can contribute to worsening diabetes related complications.
Diabetes may be a disease you have to live with, but it doesn’t need to be a disease that runs your life. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has predicted that by the year 2050, the number of people with diabetic retinopathy will triple to affect 16 million Americans.
Don’t let yourself fall victim to a disease that can be prevented. If you take care of your diabetes, you’ll be taking care of your eyes without even realizing. Help yourself and fellow diabetics by knowing how to prevent diabetic retinopathy, how to spot it, and how to treat it.