Diabetes is already a difficult condition to live with. As it turns out, an erratic blood sugar can also wreak havoc on your eyesight. Here is everything you need to know about diabetic eye diseases and their treatments.
What is diabetic eye disease?
According to WebMD, “diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye problems that people with diabetes may face as a complication of this disease.” All kinds of diabetic eye disease can “cause severe vision loss or even blindness.”
There are four common forms of diabetic eye disease. They are:
- Diabetic retinopathy (DR) – Diabetic retinopathy is characterized by damaged blood vessels in the retina. According to a recent study conducted at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “the prevalence of diabetic retinopathy was high, affecting almost one-third of adults over age 40 years with diabetes, and more than one-third of African-Americans and Mexican-Americans.” The same source goes on to say that “4.2 million adults have DR and 655,000 had vision-threatening DR.”
- Diabetic macular edema (DME) – Diabetic macular edema is described by the National Eye Institute (NEI) as “the build-up of fluid in the macula, an area in the center of the retina. The retina is a light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye and the macula is the part of the retina responsible for sharp, straight-ahead vision. Fluid buildup causes the macula to swell and thicken, which distorts vision.”
This means that while DR is concerned with damaged blood vessels in the retina, DME then is the buildup of fluid in the macula. DME is also a frequent complication of DR.
- Cataract – According to the NEI, this condition refers to the “clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision.” While most cataract cases are related to aging, diabetes is a known factor to this eye disease. It can also be caused by prior eye surgery, such as the ones needed to treat the two conditions mentioned above.
- Glaucoma – Finally, there is glaucoma. Similar to the blanket term of diabetic eye disease, glaucoma also refers to a set of diseases that deal with the damage in the eye’s optic nerve. Diabetic patients are at risk of developing secondary glaucoma, as well as those who have a family history of the said disease.
All these eye diseases can cause vision loss and blindness. They are also linked together by a single illness: diabetes, which can put them at risk to all of these items.
What are its symptoms?
While the consequences of leaving DR and DME untreated are disastrous, many people do not know that they have these conditions until it is too late. In fact, the early stages of DR typically do not present symptoms. Patients will only notice that something is wrong when their visions are affected. Few patients report experiencing pain.
However, some patients experience seeing “floaters”, or bleeding from abnormal blood vessels. These spots often clear on their own, but the risk of permanent vision loss becomes more prominent if the bleeding recurs. What’s more, blurred vision can also occur once the macula swells from the excess fluid.
These symptoms only manifest when it is too late. For this reason, diabetic patients are advised to routinely have their eyes checked to reduce the risk of contracting these diseases.
How is it treated?
Thankfully, despite the dire outcome should DR and DME progress, they are still treatable conditions. They are often treated through laser surgery and injection therapy. Examples of such are:
- Anti-VEGF Injection Therapy – Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) drugs are injected into the eye to decrease the fluid and reverse abnormal blood vessel growth. There are several Anti-VEGF injections that are approved by the FDA to combat DME.
- Corticosteroids – This is either implanted or injected into the eye. They are biodegradable and can suppress the growth of DME. However, they can also increase the risk of glaucoma and cataract, which means that diabetic patients would need more frequent eye checkups to ensure that their vision is in tiptop condition.
- Focal/grid macular laser surgery – In this treatment method, leaking blood vessels are targeted with small laser burns to slow the leakage. This, in turn, reduces retinal swelling. This can be combined with anti-VEGF injection therapy, depending on the advice of your doctor.
- Vitrectomy – Finally, there is vitrectomy, which surgically removes the vitreous gel in the center of the eye. This is performed under general or local anesthesia, depending on the severity of the case. This is also used to treat a detached retina.
While the physical damage brought about by DR and DME to the eye can be reversed through the methods above, the vision loss may become permanent. For this reason, diabetic patients are encouraged to have a dilated eye examination at least once a year to determine if they need closer monitoring for diabetic eye diseases.
How are your treatments different from other clinics?
Arizona Retinal Specialists offer exemplary retinal medical and surgical care not only to our patients in Phoenix, AZ but also those who would want to partake of our services. Our brilliant ophthalmologists are trailblazers in the field, with the primary focus on providing holistic services for our clients. As we say, “We don’t only treat diseases of the eye with retinal medical and surgical care. We consider possible disease processes in other systems of the body that may be related to eye disease of our clients.”
The gold standard upheld by Arizona Retinal Specialists is founded on the breakthrough practices of our doctors, Dr. Mandi Conway and Dr. Gholam Peyman. The two of them have bridged the gap between many complex eye diseases and an easy path to recovery. In fact, Dr. Peyman invented the famous LASIK eye surgery, which is now being used by countless people who want to restore their vision to 20/20.
Are you in need of diabetic eye disease treatments?
If you are looking for top-notch vision care, look no further than Arizona Retinal Specialists. Our medical team understands how dire diabetic eye diseases can be, thus, has the treatment recommendations you seek. Call us today at 623-474-3937 (EYES) for more information.