Diabetes Management

How to Control Your Diabetes and Stay Healthy


Diabetes Eye Problems and Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes and eye problems go hand in hand. Diabetes is the primary cause of blindness for adults under 65, and while only a small percentage of diabetics will go completely blind from diabetes, after about ten years of chronic wear and tear on the blood vessels, half of the type 2 diabetics show some signs of retinopathy. 

Diabetic retinopathy is a disorder that involves damage to the retina. The retina is the small thin membrane of cells at the back of your eye. The retina is the part of the organ of the eye that is most involved in sending signals to the brain -- signals that are recognized and understood. Under normal circumstances, this part of your eye is nourished by a wealth of tiny blood vessels that keep your vision running smoothly.

What Causes these Diabetic Eye Problems?

Diabetic retinopathy is caused when there has been damage to your blood vessels in the retina. Your blood vessels, when you have diabetes, are under attack, especially when your blood sugars are chronically out of control, and your eye can be greatly impacted by changes in the blood vessels in your eye.

When the blood vessels become dysfunctional there can be leaking and scarring of the retina, and eventually retinal detachment and other complications like edema can occur. These conditions can be treated and their impact diminished if the disease process is addressed early on, and tight control of blood sugar levels is central.


If you are diabetic protect your eye sight. 

Diabetic Eye Problems: Two Types

Retinopathy is often broken down into two types of  diabetes eye problems, the early damage that most diabetics get, and the more severe and serious type that is more likely to be a chronic process.

The first type of retinopathy, and most common, is called "nonproliferative retinopathy" You can get spots of blood in your eye (microaneuryisms) when your blood vessels swell or get blocked. Blood and other fluids may leak into your eye, and that blood in your eye or the other fluids then interfere with your vision.  

More problematic damage to your eye comes from the more chronic retinopathy known as proliferative retinopathy. This type of problem arises when new blood vessels grow rapidly (proliferate) in the damaged retina. These very tiny new blood vessels in your eye are fragile and can sometimes bleed. You get blood in your eye. The result of this hemorrhaging is scar tissue forms either in the retina or the eyeball, and this scarring interferes with your vision. In severe cases, as mentioned, retinal detachment can occur, and the retina rips away.

Other Eye Problems

Other more unusual problems in the eyes of diabetics are not discussed here. You should also learn about glaucoma, cataracts, detachment of the retina, and diabetic macular edema.

How Can You Protect Your Vision?

In early and even moderate stages of the progressive eye problems, you may not notice significant changes in your eye sight. One of the most important steps you can take is to have regular eye exams. Your doctor will dilate your eyes with eye drops and examine your retina. Once you have diabetes, an exam every year or so - some say 6 months, especially once the retinopathy is detected- is not a good idea. Also, the longer you have had diabetes, the more you need to get regular exams. 

Near normal blood sugar levels (known as tight control) can help to stave off the retinopathy.  Management stalwarts like diet, exercise and when appropriate medication, become all the more important if your eyesight is at risk.  Controlling  your blood pressure and cholesterol you can also reduce your likelihood of vision loss. Nevertheless even prediabetic levels of blood sugar can be associated with some retinopathy.

In more severe complications the diabetes eye problems may need more vigorous interventions. Photocoagulation is one form of laser surgery that is sometimes used, and vitrectomy is another surgical approach, which is used to avod retinal detachment. In some cases, cryogenic (freezing) interventions can be appropriate.

Photo credit eyeball: eek the cat


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