Diabetes is a disease that affects all areas of the body. Approximately 17 million Americans have diabetes, yet half are not aware they have the disease.
Diabetics should pay careful attention to their eyes as high blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels in the retina and are twice as likely to experience cataracts or glaucoma. The longer someone has diabetes, the more likely they will develop diabetic retinopathy.
- Background Retinopathy (NPDR) – this is the early stage of diabetic retinopathy and tiny blood vessels leak and cause the retina to swell or form exudates which does not usually affect vision.
- Macular Edema – this occurs when the damaged blood vessels leak fluid and lipids onto the macula - the part of the retina that lets one see detail. The fluid makes the macula swell, blurring vision. If new blood vessels have grown on the surface of the retina, they can bleed into the eye, blocking vision.
Proliferative Retinopathy (PDR) – this is the later stage of diabetic retinopathy, when abnormal new vessels being to grow on the surface of the retina. These new vessels are weak, break easily and cause bleeding, scarring and retinal detachments resulting in severe visual loss.
The treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy may be laser surgery for the edema and abnormal blood vessels. A vitrectomy may be needed in advance PDR to remove a vitreous hemorrhage, abnormal vessels, or to repair a retinal detachment. Surgery cannot restore vision that has already been lost to retinopathy, but it can reduce the risk of severe vision loss.
Since early detection and treatment are vital to preserving a diabetic's vision, it is extremely important that diabetics monitor their blood sugar and undergo regular eye exams with their ophthalmologist.