Protecting Your Eyes From Diabetes

by Jul 24, 2019

If you have diabetes, it is very important that you visit your doctor for an annual dilated ocular health evaluation.  Diabetes increases the risk for several different eye diseases, most noticeably a retinal condition called diabetic retinopathy.  If left undetected and untreated, diabetic retinopathy has the potentially to become a vision-threatening condition. However, by properly controlling blood glucose levels, maintaining appropriate communication with your primary care doctor, and completing annual ocular health evaluations, you can significantly decrease your risk of vision loss associated with diabetic retinopathy. 

The Cause of Diabetic Retinopathy

Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are chronic conditions that result in accumulation of blood glucose within blood vessels.  This aggregation of sugar within the vessels weakens the walls of blood vessels and results in a wide range of problems. The vessels that are most susceptible to diabetic damage are the small delicate arteries and veins, such as those found in the back of the eye.  When these retinal vessels have been damaged and the effects are observed during an eye exam, diabetic retinopathy is diagnosed.

Diabetic retinopathy is characterized by retinal blood vessels that leak blood or proteins, or areas or retinal tissue that do not receive adequate blood flow and become ischemic.  The disease can be classified by a range of stages, from mild, in which there are only a few small areas of leaky vessels and small hemorrhages, to severe, where significant portions of retinal tissue have been damaged. In extremely dangerous cases of diabetic retinopathy, areas of the retina can become so poorly perfused that it triggers the new growth of weak leaky blood vessels.  This puts the eye at risk for visual threats such as major bleeds or retinal detachments. 

In any stage of the disease, sight can be threatened by the presence of diabetic macular edema.  Macular edema occurs when leakage and swelling occurs close to the macula, which is the part of the retina that provides clear, central, 20/20 vision.  If macular edema goes undetected or untreated, the swelling can result in permanent tissue damage, and vision loss can occur. 

Diabetes: Treating and Managing Diabetic Retinopathy

The decision to treat diabetic retinopathy depends largely on whether or not sight is threatened.  In cases of mild diabetic retinopathy where no macular edema is present and blood glucose levels are generally well controlled, the eye doctor may simply choose to monitor the condition. 

In more serious cases where macular edema is present and there is a risk for permanent damage, they may make the decision to treat with options such as laser therapy or injections to reduce swelling or prevent the growth of new blood vessels.  The diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy will likely require multiple follow-up visits with an eye care professional to ensure ocular health is preserved. 

There are two main factors that influence the likelihood of developing diabetic retinopathy: how long the patient has been diabetic, and how well controlled the disease is.  For patients who have been diabetic for a long time, or those who are poorly controlled with highly variable blood glucose levels, the risk for diabetic retinopathy is much higher.  That is why strict blood sugar control and diligent communication with primary care doctors is vital for protecting ocular health. 


Our eye doctors and staff at Nittany Eye Care excel in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of diabetes and diabetic retinopathy. Call us at (814) 234-2015 or schedule an appointment online.  Our optometrists provide the highest quality eye care services in the State College, Matilda, Spring Mills, Tyrone, and Lock Haven PA areas. 


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