What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a medical condition resulting when the pancreas slows down or stops secreting insulin. This prevents the body from using and storing sugar properly. High blood-sugar levels can eventually damage blood vessels (capillaries) throughout the body that supply the eyes, kidneys, heart, nerves and skin.
Clinically there are two types of diabetes:
Type I diabetes, also known as juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes, occurs when the pancreas no longer manufactures insulin. Treatment of this condition usually requires daily administration of insulin.
Type II diabetes, also known as adult-onset or non insulin-dependent diabetes, occurs when insulin does not function properly in the body. Treatment of this condition usually requires oral medication taken daily.
How does Diabetes affect the eyes and my vision?
This condition can weaken the small blood vessels of the retina, resulting in leakage of fluid or blood (background retinopathy) or in production of abnormal blood vessels (proliferative retinopathy). These blood vessels can break and produce rapid visual loss because the vitreous (normally transparent) fills with blood, blocking the transmission of light to the retina.
How will I know if I have eye damage from Diabetes?
Retinopathy causes no eye pain. Typically a diabetic patient has few warning signs until late in the disease process. There is often no vision loss until the retinopathy is advanced. Since these early signs of eye damage are "silent" a dilated eye examination by your eye doctor is the ONLY way to detect these ocular complications.
What can I do to limit the eye damage caused by Diabetes?
The best treatment is to prevent or restrict the development of retinopathy. Strict control of your blood sugar and treatment of high blood pressure and kidney problems, if present, may significantly reduce, but not eliminate, your long-term risk of developing sight-threatening retinal damage. Your family doctor can help advise you.
I've just been diagnosed with Diabetes. What are the odds I will develop retinopathy?
Fifty (50) percent of diabetics develop at least some degree of ocular involvement after seven (7) years.
Does the presence of diabetic retinopathy always require treatment?
No. The presence of mild diabetic retinopathy that does not threaten visual function may not require treatment but will need to be followed closely to detect any progression. Only some diabetics with retinopathy will eventually develop more serious retinal complications that require treatment.
How is clinically significant diabetic retinopathy treated?
Laser surgery to the retina can frequently prevent further progression and can even reverse certain types of retinopathy. The presence of blood within the eye may require surgery (vitrectomy) for removal.
I have diabetes. How often do I need to visit my eye doctor?
Early detection is the best protection against visual loss from diabetes. For this reason, patients with diabetes should have eye examinations at least once a year. Those patients with documented retinal changes may need to be followed more often depending on their severity.