Vision issues are a common complication associated with diabetes, but many individuals with diabetes do not know they’re at risk. It is estimated that less than half of those who suffer from vision problems related to diabetes were unaware of the link between the disease and visual impairment, and at least 10% of those with diabetes are at risk of developing eye disease in their lifetimes.
Vision complications caused by diabetes can be treated in nearly all cases if they are diagnosed early, so it is imperative that we raise awareness among those with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Vision issues may also be a problem for women who become diabetic during pregnancy. According to Dr. Neil Bressler, a professor of ophthalmology at the John Hopkins School of Medicine, vision damage can be prevented or halted in 90-95% of cases if patients and doctors take action immediately. If these vision problems are not addressed early on, they can cause permanent and irreversible damage or even blindness. At Athens Eye Care, we urge our patients or prospective patients with diabetes to seek regular, comprehensive eye exams to prevent severe vision harm.
Diabetic eye disease encompasses a number of vision issues such as cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy or diabetic macular edema (DME). (We will diagnose these issues at your regular eye appointment.) DME is the most common vision problem linked to diabetes and is the leading cause of blindness in American adults. This complication is caused when high blood sugar levels associated with poorly managed diabetes cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina, which is the light sensitive tissue that lines the back wall of the eye. Blood vessels in the retina either leak or shrink or grow abnormally on the surface of the retina, causing swelling in the macula, a vital portion of the retina that is responsible for your central vision.
DME has four stages: mild non proliferative, moderate non proliferative, severe non proliferative, and proliferative. In the mild non proliferative stage, micro aneurysms occur causing balloon-like swelling in the retina’s blood vessels. As the disease progresses into the moderate non proliferative stage, some blood vessels that nourish the retina become blocked. Once the issues persist untreated, the disease develops into a severe non proliferative stage in which the increased number of blocked blood vessels deprive several areas of the retina from their blood supply. This causes the retina to send signals to the body to grow new blood vessels for nourishment. Proliferative DME is considered an advanced stage in which signals sent by the retina for nourishment trigger the growth of new blood vessels, which are abnormal and fragile. If these vessels leak, severe vision or blindness can result.
Oftentimes there are no symptoms associated with the early stages of eye disease, so it is imperative that those with diabetes do not wait for symptoms to occur before seeking medical attention. Individuals with diabetes should have an annual comprehensive eye exam in which their eyes are dilated in order to assess vision complications before they become severe and possibly irreversible. During a thorough and proper eye exam to detect vision problems linked to diabetes, you should expect the following: a visual acuity test to measure your ability to see at various distances, a dilated eye exam to allow your eye care professional to see inside your eye, and a tonometry to measure the pressure inside your eye. Your eye care professional should be examining your eye for leaking blood vessels, retinal swelling, pale or fatty deposits on the retina, damaged nerve tissue, or any other changes to the blood vessels. If you have an advanced stage of eye disease, medication can be injected into the eye to reduce swelling or laser therapy can be used. Overall, the key to preventing cases of vision damage or loss among those with diabetes is spreading awareness and, most importantly, scheduling annual eye exams. To book your appointment with one of our trusted and skilled eye care professionals, contact Athens Eye Care today!