Diabetic Eye Disease (DED) is a collective term for all eye and vision problems that a person with diabetes suffers from. These diseases can cause severe loss of vision and even blindness. The common types include diabetic retinopathy (damage on the retina's blood vessels), cataract (clouding of eye's lens) and glaucoma (increase in fluid pressure inside the eye that results in optic nerve damage and blindness). Among these three, diabetic retinopathy is the most commonly associated eye problem with diabetes.
What is Diabetic Retinopathy?
Changes in the blood vessels bring about this most common cause of blindness in the United States. If you have diabetic retinopathy condition, your blood vessels will swell and leak fluid. It can also cause abnormal new vessels to surface on the retina. When you have diabetic retinopathy, you would experience changes in your vision. In most cases, this condition affects both of the eyes.
Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy
• Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy – This is the earliest stage where microaneurysms occur. Microaneurysms are balloon-like swelling of the blood vessels of the retina.
• Moderate Nonproliferative Retinopathy – This the second stage wherein some of the blood vessels that provide nutrition to the retina are blocked.
• Severe Nonproliferative Retinopathy – In this third stage, more blood vessels are blocked. Because of this, the retina becomes devoid of blood supply.
• Proliferative Retinopathy – This refers to the advanced stage, wherein the retina sends message to the brain that it needs new blood vessels. This triggers the growth of blood vessels in the retina. When these thin and fragile blood vessels leak blood, they cause severe loss of vision or even blindness.
Who Are at Risk?
People suffering from type 1 and type 2 diabetes are at risk. If you are suffering from any of these two types of diabetes, make sure that you get a comprehensive dilated eye exam once a year. The longer you have diabetes, the more prone you are to diabetic retinopathy. In fact, 40 to 45 percent of Americans suffering from diabetes are affected by this type of diabetic eye disease. Women with diabetes are also at risk of diabetic retinopathy.
How to Protect Your Vision
As mentioned earlier, it is vital to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam annually. It is also essential to have better controls of sugar level. This also helps avoid kidney and nerve diseases. Maintaining proper levels of blood pressure and cholesterol can also help in reducing the risk of this condition.
In most cases, there are no symptoms during the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. This makes the comprehensive dilated eye exam every year even more important. In advanced cases, you'll have blurred vision called macular edema. You may also see specks of blood or floaters in your vision. If these symptoms are not treated immediately, vision loss and blindness may result.