Are you a diabetic? If so, you are already at a higher risk of developing conditions like cataracts, retinopathy, and glaucoma. The caring team at VisionCare Associates in East Lansing is committed to helping patients with their diabetic eye care.
How Does diabetes Affect the Eyes?
Diabetes occurs because the body produces too much blood sugar. This can adversely affect the body, including your eyes.
When you are a diabetic, higher blood sugar can result in issues like blurry vision, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and cataracts. In adults who are ages 20-74, diabetes is the primary cause of blindness.
What is Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease that people with diabetes can develop. With diabetic retinopathy, high blood sugar levels damage the retina’s blood vessels.
The damage to the retina’s blood vessels results in swelling and leaking. They may also close, which stops any blood from passing through. New, abnormal blood vessels may also grow on the retina.
There are two main stages of diabetic retinopathy: non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy and proliferative diabetic retinopathy.
Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy
Non-proliferative is the early stage of diabetic retinopathy.
In this stage, tiny blood vessels leak, which causes the retina to swell.
Blood vessels in the retina may also close off, stopping any blood from reaching the macula. With this stage of diabetic retinopathy, you will have blurry vision.
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy
The more advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy is proliferative diabetic retinopathy. This stage begins when the retina starts growing new blood vessels, in a process called neovascularization.
The new blood vessels are quite fragile and weaker than normal blood vessels would be. The new blood vessels will often bleed into the vitreous, which could block all vision.
These new, weaker blood vessels also form scar tissue. Scar tissue can lead to problems with the macula or a detached retina.
This advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy can lead to vision loss of both central and peripheral vision.
Are There Symptoms to Watch Out for with Diabetic Retinopathy?
Like glaucoma, there are very few obvious symptoms with diabetic retinopathy, at least in the early stages. As it advances, you may notice symptoms like the following:
- Blurry vision
- Seeing more floaters than normal
- Your vision may change from blurry to clear
- Your night vision gets worse
- Colors look more washed out or faded
- Experiencing blank areas in your field of vision
These symptoms of diabetic retinopathy will usually affect both of your eyes.
Can You Treat Diabetic Retinopathy?
Once your ophthalmologist diagnoses you with diabetic retinopathy, there are several treatment options they can recommend.
The first they may start with is making healthy lifestyle changes. Keeping your blood sugar levels under control, along with your blood pressure, can stop vision loss.
Stick to a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and do your best to be as healthy as possible. Controlling your blood pressure and blood sugar is a big part of what keeps blood vessels in the eye healthy.
Besides making healthy lifestyle changes, your eye doctor may also prescribe medication. For diabetic retinopathy, anti-VEGF medications like Eylea, Lucentis, and Avastin can be quite helpful.
Anti-VEGF medications help reduce the swelling of the macula. This slows down vision loss and, in some patients, may improve vision.
Anti-VEGF medication is given through injections to the eye. Another medication that your ophthalmologist may prescribe is a steroid medication, also given as an injection to the eye.
Steroids can help reduce swelling in the macula as well. For either of these medications, you may need several injections over time, which your eye doctor will discuss with you.
If medications and lifestyle changes are not enough, there are also surgical procedures. Laser surgery may be used to seal off any leaking blood vessels and reduce swelling of the retina.
Having laser surgery can also shrink blood vessels and prevent them from growing back. If you have the more advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy, proliferative diabetic retinopathy, you may need a procedure called a vitrectomy.
With a vitrectomy, the vitreous gel as well as any blood from leaking blood vessels are removed from the back of the eye. If there is any scar tissue on the retina, this may be removed as well.