Diabetes significantly increases the risk for eye diseases and vision loss, primarily as a result of damage to the small blood vessels inside the eyes. Diabetes is a major cause of blindness in people between the ages of 20 and 74, which makes regular eye exams especially important for anyone with the disease.
What are Diabetic Eye Diseases?
There are four primary eye diseases associated with diabetes:
- Diabetic retinopathy: Diabetic retinopathy is a disease that affects the light-sensitive retina located at the back of the eye. There are two types of diabetic retinopathy: nonproliferative retinopathy that occurs when tiny blood vessels in the retina become swollen, and proliferative retinopathy where new, weak blood vessels form and leak blood. Proliferative retinopathy can cause scar tissue and eventually lead to retinal detachment.
- Diabetic macular edema (DME): DME occurs in people who have diabetic retinopathy when fluid builds up around the central portion of the retina (the macula), resulting in vision loss. DME occurs in about half of all people who have diabetic retinopathy.
- Cataracts: Cataracts develop when the normally clear lens of the eye becomes cloudy, preventing light from reaching the retina and causing dimmed vision. Cataracts can occur in people with or without diabetes, but they’re two to five times more common among diabetics and they also tend to form earlier in people who have diabetes.
- Glaucoma: Glaucoma is a disease that causes damage to the eye’s optic nerve, the nerve that transmits light signals to the brain where they’re “interpreted” into images. Like cataracts, glaucoma can occur in people who don’t have diabetes, but men and women who have diabetes are twice as likely to develop glaucoma as they get older.
How are Diabetic Eye Diseases Diagnosed?
Diabetic eye diseases can be diagnosed with a comprehensive eye exam to assess vision problems and to evaluate the structures of the eye. Special eyedrops are used to dilate the eye so the retina and the optic nerve head can be clearly seen and evaluated. Computer scanning technology is also used in optometry to obtain highly detailed images of the retina, which can be very useful in diagnosing retinopathy and macular edema.
How Can an Optometrist Help Me Prevent or Manage these Diseases?
One of the most important ways an optometrist can help is by performing regular comprehensive eye exams. If you have diabetes, whether or not an eye disease has been diagnosed, you should have a comprehensive eye exam every year. For people who have a diabetes-related eye disease, treatment will be tailored to suit the specific disease. Glaucoma can be managed with eye drops or oral medications to decrease pressure inside the eye, and people with cataracts may improve mild symptoms with magnifying lenses or glasses that help prevent glare. Some patients with cataracts may be able to have their natural lenses surgically removed and replaced with artificial lenses, but other patients with retinopathy may not be good candidates for cataract surgery.
Find Diabetic Eye Care in Columbia
Dr. Dorothy Park & Associates is a leading optometry practice in Columbia, SC, providing comprehensive exams and care options for patients with diabetic eye diseases. Diabetic eye diseases often cause few symptoms in their earliest stages, and having routine eye exams is critical for preventing vision loss. To schedule your eye exam, call the office today at (803) 254-6306.