Why are we always asking our diabetics about their eye exams? Part of managing diabetes is reducing the risk of complications, such as diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy happens by damage to the blood vessels in the retina, which is tissue in the back of the eye. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye responsible for receiving images to send to the brain. Uncontrolled glucose levels can cause the damage and can happen to all diabetic patients. It is estimated that more than 50% of diabetics will develop retinopathy.
Early retinopathy may not have symptoms but after time and as it progresses there can be vision changes and blurring of objects. More advanced stages can create bleeding which may give floats (dark spots in the vision) or streaking. Untreated retinopathy can lead to scaring which can progress to blindness. Other complications of diabetic retinopathy can be diabetic macular edema, which causes blurring of vision, and neovascular glaucoma, blood vessels grow out of the retina which blocks fluid from draining out of the eye.
Diabetic retinopathy can be detected on dilated eye exam. Treatment can be as simple as monitoring with more frequent dilated exams. Treatments for more advanced stages can include injections with medications to reduce progression or reverse damage, laser treatment to reduce swelling and size of blood vessels, or a vitrectomy, a type of eye surgery. As with most things, prevention is the best, and there are things you can do to prevent diabetic retinopathy. Following a healthy diet, getting regular physical activity, and keeping your glucose levels well controlled. In addition to keeping glucose controlled, it is important to keep blood pressure and cholesterol in normal range.