Diabetic-Specific Eye Diseases Must Be Diagnosed Early

People with diabetes are much more susceptible to eye diseases which, if left untreated, can lead to permanent vision loss.

Diabetic eye exams include all of the usual tests and assessments performed during a comprehensive eye exam, but then go into more depth regarding diabetes-specific diseases. Diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema (DME) may be present even before showing any symptoms; this is what we look for during your exam.

Since both diseases can cause permanent visual impairment, early recognition is critical to maximize vision retention.

Diabetic Retinopathy and DME Explained

  • What is diabetic retinopathy? – Diabetic retinopathy may be nonproliferative or proliferative.
    • Nonproliferative – This is the milder form of the disease and can be gauged as mild, moderate or severe. The blood vessels of the retina weaken over time and can rupture, bleeding and leaking into the retina. These fluids can obscure your vision and, if left untreated, may accumulate and cause significant vision loss.
    • Proliferative – Accounting for around 10% of diabetic retinopathy cases, this is much more severe. The blood vessels in the retina can die off, and new weaker vessels are grown in their place. These new blood vessels are much more prone to bleeding and leakage, and can also cause traction on the retina leading to hemorrhages, tears, or detachments.
  • What is DME? – This condition affects roughly 50% of patients with diabetes at some point. It’s similar to nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, except the fluids leak into the macula and can severely affect central vision.

Living With An Eye Disease

There is currently no cure for diabetes, but maintaining a healthy blood sugar is a start. Photocoagulation (aka laser treatment) can be used to target weak blood vessels in the case of diabetic retinopathy and seal them shut. This aims to prevent more fluid from leaking into the eye and help retain as much sight as possible. Treatment options for DME include laser therapy and anti-VEGF injections, but these should be discussed at length with your optometrist.

If your vision does become severely compromised, you may be diagnosed with low vision. In this case we can discuss visual aids and other means of adapting to help you lead as “normal” a life as possible.

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