Over 21 million people in the United States have diabetes, with an estimated additional 6 million people unaware they have a form of the disease. What’s more, an estimated 54 million Americans ages 40 to 74 have prediabetes, a condition that puts them at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. According to a recent American Optometric Association survey, diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults ages 20 to 74.
Diabetes is a disease that affects the way we process food for energy and growth. With all forms of diabetes—type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes—the body has trouble converting sugar in the blood into energy, resulting in a host of potential health problems.
Diabetes increases the likelihood that common diabetes-related vision problems or diseases might occur:
- Diabetics are prone to developing cataracts (a clouding of the eye’s lens) at an earlier age.
- People with diabetes are almost 50% more likely to develop glaucoma, an eye disorder that damages the optic nerve often marked by an increase of internal eye pressure.
- Macular edema (and macular degeneration) are more common in diabetics due to malfunctioning blood vessels in the middle region of the retina responsible for central, sharp vision.
- Most notably, diabetes can result in diabetic retinopathy; an eye disease that affects the blood vessels in the all-important retina. Nearly 45 percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy.
That’s why there’s no separating diabetes and vision. If you have diabetes, then you should understand vision problems that increase in likelihood as a result of the disease.
Diabetic retinopathy involves swelling, leaking or abnormal growth of blood vessels in or near the retina. There are multiple stages to this disease, the earliest of which may not present any symptoms you can see.
In the early stage of diabetic retinopathy, called background or non-proliferative retinopathy, high blood sugar in the retina damages blood vessels, which bleed or leak fluid. This leaking or bleeding causes swelling in the retina, which forms deposits.
In the later stage of diabetic retinopathy, called proliferative retinopathy, new blood vessels begin to grow on the retinal. These new blood vessels may break, causing bleeding into the vitreous, which is the clear gelatinous matter that fills the inside of the eye. This breakage can cause serious vision difficulties. This form of diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness, and is therefore the more serious form of the disease.
- Blurred or cloudy vision
- Seeing floaters or spots
- Difficulty reading or seeing close objects
- Double Vision
- Poor Night Vision
That’s why comprehensive eye exams are so important when thinking about diabetes and eye sight—both type 1 and type 2 diabetics are at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy, and the longer you have diabetes, the more likely you are to develop some form of the disease.
95% of people diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, if treated promptly, can avoid significant vision loss.
Laser photocoagulation treatment seals off blood vessels that are leaking into the eye, and stops new blood vessels from growing. This laser treatment only takes a few moments, and is painless.
Sometimes in diabetic retinopathy, blood leaks into the vitreous humor in the eye, clouding vision. Some eye doctors wait before choosing treatment, as the blood may dissipate by itself. Another treatment option is a vitrectomy, which removes blood that has already leaked into the vitreous humor.
To improve the supply of blood to the core inner portion of the retina, a laser may be used to destroy tissue on the outside of the retina which is not essential for basic vision. This procedure is used to save vision.
Lucentis is a medication that is administered by an eye doctor using injections. This medication was approved by the FDA is 2015, and is the first non-laser treatment approved by the FDA. The FDA is currently reviewing several other non-laser treatments for diabetic retinopathy.
Please contact us today to schedule your next eye exam!