Diabetic retinopathy, also known as diabetic eye disease, is a common eye condition affecting an estimated 40 to 45 percent of all Americans who have diabetes. When left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can result in permanent vision loss.
Diabetic retinopathy occurs when high blood glucose levels cause the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina to swell, leak or become blocked. As the blood vessels become blocked, the supply of blood and nourishment to the retina is cut off, resulting in vision loss. To compensate for blocked blood vessels, the body may produce more blood vessels; however, these new vessels are fragile and prone to leaking. Leaky blood vessels in the eye can cause permanent damage and may result in blindness.
Preventing diabetic retinopathy
People who have diabetes can help prevent diabetic retinopathy by managing several lifestyle factors that may contribute to the condition. If you have diabetes, you should:
Properly manage your diabetes.Commit to eating a healthy diet and making physical exercise a priority. Regular, moderate aerobic activity, such as walking, can reduce your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. It’s also important to closely monitor your blood sugar. Too much fluctuation in your blood glucose levels can affect your vision.
Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check.High blood pressure and cholesterol elevate your risk of developing eye disease. You can manage your blood pressure and cholesterol by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, losing weight and managing your stress levels.
Quit smoking. Smoking and other tobacco use increases risk of a number of health conditions, including diabetic retinopathy. Enroll in a smoking cessation program or ask your doctor for advice on how to quit smoking.
Maintain yearly eye exams.Early detection is key. Keep up with your yearly eye exams so that your doctor can diagnose any early signs of diabetic retinopathy before it’s
too late. If you notice sudden changes in your vision, contact your doctor right away.
Exercise and nutrition are also important in the management of diabetes and prevention of diabetic retinopathy.
Treating diabetic retinopathy
Treatment of diabetic retinopathy depends on the stage of the disease. In the early stages of non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, no treatment other than monitoring the disease and maintaining a healthy lifestyle may be necessary. Keeping up with routine eye exams is also essential.
As the disease progresses, the blood vessels in the eye may begin to leak fluid into the eye. This can cause permanent damage to the eye, cause scar tissue to develop and may even cause vision loss. Leaky blood vessels can be treated with a laser eye treatment called photocoagulation. During this treatment, a laser is used to seal the leaking blood vessels.
When abnormal blood vessel growth occurs during the final stage of the disease—called proliferative diabetic retinopathy—a laser treatment is used to scatter small burn areas across the retina, causing the abnormal blood vessels to shrink and disappear.
If bleeding into the vitreous gel of the eye does not clear up on its own, a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy may be necessary to clear the eye of blood left by the disease.
If you have diabetes, it is essential that you maintain annual eye exams. Early detection of the disease is critical to prevent vision loss or blindness. Contact Key-Whitman today to schedule an appointment.