Everyone with diabetes, either type 1 or type 2, is at risk for a serious eye complication known as diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease and the leading cause of blindness in American adults. Close to half of people diagnosed with diabetes have some form of the disease. However, with early detection and treatment, the risk of severe vision loss is small.
The high blood sugars associated with diabetes affect all parts of the body, including your eyes. “Retinopathy” refers to the damage caused to the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of your eye. With diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels may swell and leak fluid or abnormal new blood vessels may grow on the retina. Your risk of vision loss increases the longer you have the disease.
In the early stages of the disease, your vision may seem fine. Even as the disease progresses, you may not notice any changes in your vision. That’s why it’s especially important for people with diabetes to have a complete eye examination at least once a year. Your ophthalmologist will be able to detect signs of the disease through a painless screening process.
If you do experience symptoms, they might include:
- “Cobwebs” or tiny specks floating in your field of vision
- Dark streaks or a red film that block your vision
- Vision loss or blurred vision
- A dark or empty spot in the center of your field of vision
- Poor night vision
- Difficulty adjusting from bright to dim light
Diabetic retinopathy can be a special problem during pregnancy. If you have diabetes and become pregnant, you should have an eye exam as soon as possible. Your doctor may recommend regular exams throughout your pregnancy.
There are four stages of diabetic retinopathy ranging from mild to proliferative. During the first three stages, no treatment is needed unless you have macular edema (swelling in the center of the eye from leaking fluid). To prevent the disease from progressing, it’s important to keep your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol under control.
If the disease has reached an advanced stage, your doctor may recommend laser surgery:
- Scatter laser treatment for proliferative retinopathy
- Focal laser treatment for macular edema
- A victrectomy if there is a lot of blood in the center of the eye
In each case, the laser treatment is performed in your doctor’s office. With scatter and focal laser treatment, your doctor will dilate your pupils and apply drops to numb your eyes. More than one treatment may be required. A vitrectomy is performed under local or general anesthesia and involves a longer recuperation period.
Laser surgery and appropriate follow-up care can reduce the risk of blindness by 90%. But they won’t restore lost vision. This underscores the importance of early detection and treatment.
Steps to protect your sight
- Don’t wait for symptoms, schedule regular eye exams.
- Be alert to changes in your vision.
- Control your blood sugar and cholesterol.
- Keep your blood pressure down.
- Don’t smoke.
- Lower your stress level.
Eyecare Medical Group provides diagnosis and treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy in Maine and is conveniently located for patients from Auburn, Augusta, Bangor, Bath, Berwick, Biddeford, Bridgeton, Brunswick, Cape Neddick, Casco Bay, Cumberland Center, Eliot, Freeport, Gardiner, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Kittery, Lewiston, Old Orchard Beach, Sanford, Scarborough, South Portland, Springvale, Topsham, Waterville, Westbrook, Winslow, Wiscasset, Yarmouth, Portland, Skowhegan and York Maine.