People who have had diabetes for several years are at risk to develop a potentially blinding condition calleded diabetic retinopathy and need to take steps to protect their vision. Over time, diabetes can weaken and cause changes in the small blood vessels that nourish the retina, the delicate lining at the back of the eye containing the light-sensitive nerve cells needed for seeing, says Dr. Jeffrey Garcia.
When these blood vessels begin to leak, develop brush-like branches or become enlarged, the condition is called diabetic retinopathy. Vision is affected in different ways, depending on what changes are occurring and in what part of the retina they are happening.
Vision changes include blurred central or side vision, a blind spot in the center of vision, cloudy or hazy vision, blind spots or seeing floaters. Symptoms, however, often don’t appear in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy.
That is why people with diabetes need to have a thorough eye health and vision examination every year. Looking inside the eye with an instrument that allows direct viewing of the blood vessels there, the optometrist can diagnose diabetic retinopathy in its earliest stages, when treatment is most effective.
Treatment for diabetic retinopathy involves laser and surgical procedures. These are often successful in reducing the progression of this eye disease and in decreasing the risk of vision loss.
In addition to those who have had diabetes for a number of years, other people with diabetes who have increased risk for diabetic retinopathy are those who:
- have fluctuating blood sugar levels
- are pregnant
- have high blood pressure, or smoke
Maintaining an adequate level of control of diabetes is and important factor in preventing the development of ocular and medical complications of diabetes, Dr. Garcia says.