Diabetic Eye Disease

This leading cause of blindness is largely preventable.

This year between twelve and twenty-four thousand Americans will lose their vision to diabetic eye disease.

But in most cases you can ensure that you and your loved ones do not join this unfortunate group even if you have already been diagnosed with diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a family of diseases in which a person’s body has difficulty moving sugar into its cells.

In some cases the body is not producing insulin, a hormone that helps sugar enter the cells. In other cases the body produces insufficient quantities of insulin or defective insulin receptors.

How can diabetes affect my vision?

Over time, diabetes damages small blood vessels, causing them to leak and become ineffective. In the retina, this small vessel damage leads to two major problems.

The first problem is called macular edema. The macula is a special area within the retina responsible for a person’s most detailed vision. Vessels leaking in and around the macula cause blurry vision.

The second problem caused by damaged small blood vessels is called proliferative diabetic retinopathy.



The central white dots are an example of small blood vessel leakage.

Damaged blood vessels cannot deliver sufficient oxygen to the retina. The body’s natural response to low oxygen is to grow new blood vessels. Unfortunately, these new vessels are fragile and prone to scarring. Retinal scarring can lead to detachments and blindness.

Diabetes can also hasten the onset of cataracts and can cause certain forms of glaucoma.

Diabetes runs in my family. What can I do to prevent it?

Exercise regularly, eat healthfully, and get a routine physical.

I have diabetes. What should I do to preserve my vision?

First, follow your primary care doctor’s advice for controlling your blood sugar. Anything your doctor recommends for controlling your sugar will reduce your risk of vision loss.

Second, get a routine eye exam. Even if you are happy with your vision, you may be at risk. When your eye doctor dilates your pupils, he will get a better view of your retina and should know whether or not you require treatment.



One of the best ways to prevent and help control diabetes is to live an active lifestyle.


What treatments are available for diabetic eye disease?

The treatments for diabetic retinopathy and for macular edema are far from perfect. In many cases, the goal of such treatments is not to improve vision, but rather to prevent further vision loss.

The most common method used to treat proliferative diabetic retinopathy is called pan-retinal photocoagulation (PRP). PRP is a laser procedure in which a physician (usually a retinal specialist) applies between one and two thousand burns to a patient’s peripheral retina.

By destroying parts of the retina, we reduce its overall demand for oxygen and in turn prevent further new blood vessel growth. (Remember, those new vessels are prone to damage and scarring which can lead to blindness.



If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with diabetes or is at high risk for diabetes, follow these steps:

1. Get a comprehensive physical health exam.

2. Exercise and eat healthfully.

3. Get a comprehensive eye exam including pupillary dilation.

Get informed!

The best way to ensure a lifetime of healthy vision is to get informed. Order your free subscription to Insight Eye Health Monthly by registering at www.FamilyVisionCenterNJ.com.

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