Diabetic eye disease

Information for People with Diabetes

1. What Is Diabetic Eye Disease?
Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye problems that people with diabetes may face as a result of this disease. All can cause severe vision loss or even blindness if left untreated.

Diabetic eye disease may include:

Diabetic retinopathy — damage to the retina ( back of the eye)
Cataract — clouding of lens in the eye
Glaucoma — increase in fluid pressure inside the eye that leads to optic nerve damage and loss of vision.
Cataract and glaucoma also affect many people who do not have diabetes.

2. What Is the Most Common Diabetic Eye Disease?
Diabetic retinopathy. This disease is a leading cause of blindness. It is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina. In some people with diabetic retinopathy, retinal blood vessels may swell and leak fluid. In other people, abnormal new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina. These changes may result in vision loss or blindness. If treated early these changes are reversible , however if left untreated they may lead to permenant vision loss.

3. Who Is Most Likely to Get Diabetic Retinopathy?
Anyone with diabetes. The longer someone has diabetes, the more likely he or she will get diabetic retinopathy. Nearly half of all people with diabetes will develop some degree of diabetic retinopathy during their lifetime.

4. What Are Its Symptoms?
Often there are none in the early stages of the disease. Vision may not change until the disease becomes severe. Nor is there any pain. It is thus important to have a yearly check up with your ophthalmologist to pick up the signs of the disease.

Blurred vision may occur when the macula — the part of the retina that provides sharp, central vision — swells from the leaking fluid. This condition is called macular edema. If new vessels have grown on the surface of the retina, they can bleed into the eye, blocking vision. But, even in more advanced cases, the disease may progress a long way without symptoms. That is why regular eye examinations for people with diabetes are so important.

5. How Is It Detected?
If you have diabetes, you should have your eyes examined at least once a year by your ophthalmologist

Your eyes should be dilated during the exam. That means eyedrops are used to enlarge your pupils. This allows the eye care professional to see more of the inside of your eyes to check for signs of the disease.

6. Can Diabetic Retinopathy Be Treated?
Yes. Your ophthalmologist may suggest laser surgery in which a light beam is aimed onto the retina to reverse the signs of diabetic retinopathy. Laser surgery has been proved to reduce the risk of severe vision loss from this type of diabetic retinopathy by 60 percent.

If you have macular edema, laser surgery may also be used. In this case, the laser beam is used to stop leaking of fluid from blood vessels.

However, laser surgery often cannot restore vision that has already been lost. That is why finding diabetic retinopathy early is the best way to prevent vision loss.

7. How Common Are the Other Diabetic Eye Diseases?
If you have diabetes, you are also at risk for other diabetic eye diseases. Studies show that you are twice as likely to get a cataract as a person who does not have the disease. Also, cataracts develop at an earlier age in people with diabetes. Cataracts can usually be treated by surgery.

Glaucoma may also become a problem. A person with diabetes is nearly twice as likely to get glaucoma as other adults.

8. What Can You Do to Protect Your Vision?
Finding and treating the disease early, before it causes vision loss or blindness, is the best way to control diabetic eye disease. So, if you have diabetes, make sure you get a dilated eye examination at least once a year.

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