Diabetes can affect the eyes and vision in a number of ways. It may lead to frequent fluctuations in vision, cataract in young age, decreased vision due to involvement of optic nerve, temporary paralysis of the muscles controlling the movement of eyes and thus double vision. The most significant complication of diabetes in eye is diabetic retinopathy and its complications.What is diabetic retinopathy?
Retina is the inner most layer of the eye that is sensitive to light. Diabetes affects the small vessels of the retina in the eye. There are various stages of diabetic retinopathy:
Non-proliferative or background diabetic retinopathy : When blood vessels in the retina are damaged, they can leak fluid or bleed. This causes the retina to swell and form deposits called exudates. This is an early form of diabetic retinopathy and may not lead to any decrease in vision, but it can lead to other more serious forms of retinopathy that affect the vision.
Macular edema : The fluid and exudates collects in the macula (the part of the retina that allows us to see fine details), thus decreasing the vision. Sometimes there may be a macular edema without any loss of vision. Therefore it is important to have periodic checkup to detect and treat these conditions at an early stage.
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy: This is an advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy, where the blood supply of retina is compromised. In response to this, new fragile blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina (neovascularization). These new vessels are very fragile and bleed easily. These may lead to serious vision problems if they bleed into the vitreous (the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the center of the eye) which is known as vitreous hemorrhage. This prevents the light from reaching the retina and thus can blur the vision.
The new blood vessels and the bleed into the vitreous can also cause scar tissue to develop, which can pull the retina away from the back of the eye. This is known as retinal detachment, and can lead to blindness if untreated.
In addition, abnormal blood vessels can grow on the iris (the colored part in the front of your eye, which can lead to glaucoma).
The longer the person has diabetes, the greater are his/her chances to develop diabetic retinopathy. Almost 80% of people, who have diabetes for 15 years or more, have some damage to the blood vessels in their retina. The other risk factors are high blood pressure, anemia, kidney diseases, and pregnancy.Can something be done to prevent diabetic retinopathy?
There is no treatment that can prevent diabetic retinopathy altogether. Persons with any form of diabetes may develop diabetic retinopathy. But it has been proven that a good control of diabetes can delay and slow down the rate of progress of diabetic retinopathy and its complications. Besides a good control of blood sugar, one must exercise regularly, keep the blood pressure under control, avoid smoking, and avoid obesity.How do I know if I have diabetic retinopathy?
You might not know that you are having diabetic retinopathy, as there are no symptoms in the earlier stages of the disease. Therefore it is essential to have periodic evaluation of your eye by an ophthalmologist to detect the condition early. Early diagnosis and timely treatment is very essential in preventing the complications of this disease and thus maintaining vision.
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