Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes, a disease that prevents your body from making or using insulin to break down sugar in your bloodstream, can affect your eyes and your vision.

Fluctuating or blurring of vision, intermittent double vision, loss of peripheral vision and flashes and floaters within the eyes may be symptoms related to diabetes.  Sometimes the early signs of diabetes are detected during a thorough eye examination.

Diabetes can cause changes in nearsightedness and farsightedness and lead to premature presbyopia (the inability to focus on close objects).  It can result in cataracts, glaucoma, a lack of eye muscle coordination (strabismus) and decreased corneal sensitivity.  The most serious eye problem associated with diabetes is diabetic retinopathy, which, if not controlled, can lead to blindness.

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when there is a weakening or swelling of the tiny blood vessels in the retina of your eye, resulting in blood leakage, the growth of new blood vessels and other changes.

In a routine eye examination, your eye care practitioner can diagnose potential vision-threatening changes in your eyes that may be treated to prevent blindness.  However, once damage has occurred, the effects are usually permanent. It is important to control your diabetes as much as possible to minimize the risk of developing retinopathy.

In the early stages, diabetic retinopathy can be treated with laser therapy.  A bright beam of light is focused on the retina, causing a burn that seals off leaking blood vessels.  In other cases, surgery inside the eye may be necessary.  Early detection of diabetic retinopathy is crucial.  It is routinely screened for in an eye examination.

Several factors that increase the risk of developing retinopathy include smoking, high blood pressure, excessive alcohol intake and pregnancy.

Diabetes-related eye problems can be prevented by monitoring and maintaining control of your diabetes.  See your physician regularly and follow instructions about diet, exercise and medication.

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