Diabetes is one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide, and in the United States it is the most common cause of vision loss in people younger than 65 years of age.
People with diabetes face an increased risk of a number of eye diseases, and it is important to take preventative measures and receive treatment to prevent vision loss and blindness.
At Howerton Eye, we are fully committed to helping our patients achieve and maintain beautiful, crystal-clear vision. Our team of ophthalmologists and highly-trained eye care specialists customize treatment plans to meet the needs of each individual patient, especially those who suffer from at-risk factors like diabetes. To understand more about diabetic eye disease, continue reading below.
What Is Diabetic Eye Disease?
Diabetic eye disease refers to a number of eye problems that can affect people with diabetes, including cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy, all of which can threaten vision and negatively affect daily life. All people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes can develop a form of diabetic eye disease, and due to the lack of symptoms early on, many people with diabetes are unaware that they are in the early stages of eye disease.
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease. It is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in adults 20 to 74 years of age, and the National Eye Institute (NEI) estimates that nearly 7.7 million people age 40 or older are afflicted with this condition. The risk of developing diabetic eye disease increases the longer a person has diabetes. This is concerning, especially given that the number of people with diabetes is expected to grow steadily, particularly among African Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Hispanics/Latinos, and older adults (who tend to have a greater chance of developing the condition).
How Does Diabetes Cause Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetes can clog and damage blood vessels, including those in the retina. These are crucial to vision, and diabetic retinopathy occurs when the blood vessels in the retina become damaged and can no longer effectively transport blood. The disease progresses with four stages of development as the retina is cut off from crucial blood and oxygen.
- Mild Non-Proliferative Retinopathy: Minor swelling in small regions of the blood vessels in the retina. Vision is usually unaffected.
- Moderate Non-Proliferative Retinopathy: Blockages form in the blood vessels leading to the retina.
- Severe Non-Proliferative Retinopathy: Blocked blood vessels instigate malnourishment in the retina, causing the body to create new blood vessels.
- Proliferative Retinopathy: In this final and most serious stage, the new blood vessels form along the surface of the retina, but their extremely fragile nature can cause them to leak blood. The bleeding can endanger vision and result in blindness or cause a macular edema, which is a buildup of fluid in the center of the retina.
How Do I Know If I Have Diabetic Eye Disease?
Unfortunately, there are usually no symptoms during the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, which makes the disease so dangerous. It is critical for patients who experience blurred vision and odd floating spots to see an eye doctor immediately and receive prompt treatment. The earlier the disease is caught, the more likely the treatment will be effective. The same urgency should be practiced for all patients who have diabetes in keeping up with regular eye exams. Your ophthalmologist will examine and keep a consistent watch on your eyes for any signs of diabetic retinopathy, as well as work with you to manage this condition if you are diagnosed.
What Are The Treatments for Diabetic Retinopathy?
There is no cure for diabetic retinopathy, but with preventative measures, early detection, and timely treatment and follow-up care, it is possible to reduce severe vision loss from diabetes by 95%, according to the National Eye Institute.
- Preventative Measures: These include managing your blood sugar level, pressure, and cholesterol, as well as taking prescribed medications and maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regimen to keep your diabetes in check. Quitting smoking is also a highly-recommended step.
- Early Detection: When you see your eye doctor, he or she will conduct a comprehensive dilated eye exam to detect possible diabetic eye disease. If you are a patient with diabetes, it is especially important to see your ophthalmologist regularly every six months for detecting diabetic retinopathy in its early stages.
- Treatment: In later stages of diabetic eye disease, we may be able to use laser treatments to shrink newly formed blood vessels, which can mitigate damage and preserve your vision.
Contact Your Austin, TX Ophthalmologists
If you suffer from diabetes or think you may be experiencing any symptoms of diabetic eye disease, we encourage you to act quickly to have the best chance at saving your vision. At Howerton Eye, we have treated patients at all stages of diabetic eye disease, and our experts will work with you to prevent, diagnose, and manage your situation. Contact us today to schedule an exam at our Austin, South Austin, or Kyle, TX office by calling us at (512) 746-0046. You can also book an appointment online or see our contact page for additional information about our locations. We hope to see you soon!