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Diabetic Eye Disease

By Johnson City Eye Clinic and Surgery Center

Diabetic Eye DiseaseEvery patient with diabetes is at risk of developing diabetic eye disease, specifically diabetic retinopathy, cataracts or glaucoma.  It is important for the diabetic patient to have a dilated eye exam on a yearly basis.  The yearly dilated eye exam allows you to detect the disease early, before it severely affects your vision.  Together, you and your doctor can treat the disease and prevent blindness.

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes and a leading cause of blindness.  Diabetic retinopathy occurs when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels inside the retina, the light sensitive tissue at the back of the eye.  A healthy retina is necessary for good vision.  Over time diabetic retinopathy can worsen, causing vision loss and usually affects both eyes.  There are very often no early warning signs, however, if you see specks of blood, or spots, “floating” in your vision, see your eye care professional immediately.  You may need treatment before more serious bleeding occurs.

Nearly all individuals with Juvenile or Type 1 diabetes show some symptoms of diabetic retinopathy usually after about 20 years of living with diabetes; approximately 20 to 30 percent of them develop the advanced form.  Again, it is essential to have a dilated eye exam on a yearly basis.

Most cataracts tend to advance slowly and can take years to mature; however, according to the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes are 60% more likely to develop cataracts at a younger age.  Cataracts are a clouding of the lens in the eye – the part of the eye that focuses light and produces clear images.  The natural lens is contained in a capsule inside of the eye.  As cells die they are trapped within this capsule.  The accumulation of these cells causes the lens to cloud, making images look blurry, fuzzy or faded.  Because there isn’t a sudden deterioration, you may be unable to detect the signs of a cataract or the effect they have on your vision.  A yearly visit to your eye doctor can help to identify cataracts early on, but there are some symptoms you can look for, including cloudy vision, halos around lights, frequent changes in glasses or contact lens prescriptions, double vision in one eye, poor night vision, light sensitivity or seeing faded colors.  In the early stages, stronger lighting and eyeglasses may lessen vision problems caused by cataracts.  At some point, however, surgery may be required to improve vision.

Glaucoma tends to be inherited and may not show up until later in life, yet the American Diabetes Association reports that people with diabetes are 40% more likely to suffer with glaucoma.  Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to your eye’s optic nerve and can worsen over time.  It is often associated with a buildup of pressure inside the eye caused by an improper function of the eye’s drainage system.  The increased pressure, called intraocular pressure, can damage the optic nerve, which transmits images to the brain.   Occasionally, intraocular pressure can rise to severe levels.  In these cases, sudden eye pain, headache, blurred vision, or the appearance of halos around lights may occur.   Oftentimes the loss of peripheral or side vision can go unnoticed until late in the disease.  If damage to the optic nerve from high eye pressure continues, glaucoma will cause permanent loss of vision.   Without treatment, glaucoma can cause total permanent blindness within a few years.

There is effective treatment for diabetic eye disease.  It is important to remember to have a comprehensive eye exam at least once a year.  The Physicians of Johnson City Eye Clinic and Surgery Center are board certified ophthalmologists specially trained in the treatment of diabetic eye disease.  Johnson City Eye Clinic also offers the regions’ only three fellowship trained glaucoma specialists and fellowship trained pediatric specialist.

Johnson City Eye Clinic and Surgery Center

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