November marks the beginning of Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month. The campaign aims to put the spotlight on diabetes and diabetic eye disease, as well as inspire people who are battling the condition to seek treatment for related vision problems.
Prevent Blindness America reveals that diabetes is the number one cause of new cases of blindness in adults. Every person with diabetes is at a higher risk for blindness and vision loss from diabetic eye syndrome. This is even more common for certain groups, such as the Native Americans, African Americans, Alaska Natives, Latinos, Hispanics, and older adults with diabetes.
An emerging body of research in vision, diabetes, and health care also indicates that there is a huge gap in the quality of eye care that exists throughout the United States. Right now, it is the Latino and African American communities who suffer the most.
Different Types of Diabetic Eye Disease
- Diabetic Macular Edema
Edema means a swelling or accumulation of fluid. Patients with diabetic macular edema will experience a leakage of the retinal blood vessels into the macula or the part of the eye responsible for detailed central vision. This situation causes the macula to thicken and swell, creating a developing distortion of the central vision.
Although swelling does not always result in blindness or severe vision loss, it can still lead to a significant loss of detail vision. Not to mention it is the primary cause of vision problems in people with diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic macular edema can happen at any stage of diabetic retinopathy, but there’s a higher chance for it to start as the disease progresses.
- Diabetic Retinopathy
People with diabetes have a higher chance of growing cataracts at a younger age and are twice as likely to develop glaucoma compared to their healthier counterparts. Nevertheless, diabetic retinopathy remains to be the primary vision problem of these diabetic patients. In fact, this condition is the leading cause of new cases of low vision and blindness in adults aged 20 to 65.
Here are some terms to understand:
- Retinopathy – This is a general term that describes any damage to the retina.
- Retina – This is a thin, light-sensitive tissue lining the inner surface of the eye. Nerve cells in the retina produce electrical impulses from incoming light. These, in, turn, are carried by the optic nerve to the brain, which interprets them as visual cues.
- Diabetic retinopathy – Characterized by damage to the small blood vessels that nourish nerve cells and tissue in the retina.
- Proliferative – This means to grow or increase the rate of producing new cells or tissue. When the condition diabetic retinopathy is related to the term “proliferative,” it describes the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the retina. “Non-proliferative” means that this process is not occurring yet.
The National Eye Institute categorizes diabetic retinopathy into four stages:
- Mild non-proliferative retinopathy – This is the early stage where spots of balloon-like swelling begin to appear in the retina’s tiny blood vessels.
- Moderate non-proliferative retinopathy – The blockage of some blood vessels that sustain the retina marks the progression of the disease.
- Severe non-proliferative retinopathy – More blood vessels become clogged, disrupting the blood flow in the retina. The damaged retina then creates a signal to the body to make new blood vessels.
- Proliferative retinopathy – This is an advanced phase where the signals formed in the retina trigger the growth of blood vessels in the area and the vitreous, which is a transparent gel that fills the interior of the eye. Since the body created abnormal copies, the new blood vessels will rupture and bleed, causing hemorrhages in the retina or vitreous. When scar tissue forms, it can tug at the retina and worsen the damage. It could even lead to retinal detachment.
Diagnosis of Diabetic Eye Disease
Diabetic retinopathy often doesn’t show early warning signs. Your doctor can detect it only through a comprehensive eye examination that checks for early symptoms of the disease, including:
- Macular edema
- Leaking blood vessels
- Damaged nerve tissue
- Pale, fatty deposits on the retina
- Any changes to the retinal blood vessels
For effective and accurate diagnosis of the disease, eye care specialists recommend a comprehensive diabetic eye test that involves the following procedures:
- Near and distance vision acuity tests
- A tonometry test to measure the fluid pressure inside the eye
- A comprehensive dilated eye exam, which includes the use of an ophthalmoscope. In this procedure, it the pupil that is dilated and not the entire eye. The helps the examiner to see the retina through the pupil.
- A fluorescein angiography test is used when there is a high risk for severe retinal damage. The doctor will use a special dye and camera to inspect the blood flow in the retina.
- Optical coherence tomography (OCT) testing helps the doctor to see a clearer picture of the retina and its supporting layers. This is a type of medical imaging technology that generates high-resolution three-dimensional and cross-sectional images of the eye.
Five Steps To Prevent The Problem
- Get Annual Eye Tests – Have a dilated eye exam at least once a year. Since many retinal problems do not have symptoms, it’s best to be on top of your eye health through annual tests.
- Exercise – Movement is good not only for your eyes but for your entire body as well.
- Control Your Blood Sugar – Higher blood sugar levels affect the shape of your eye’s lens, making your vision blurry. Stabilize your blood sugar to prevent any short- or long-term damage to your eyes.
- Maintain Your Cholesterol Levels and Blood Pressure – Keep these two under control to avoid vision loss and other eye problems.
- Quit Smoking – Smoking cigarettes is linked to diabetic retinopathy and other diabetes-related eye conditions.
Having diabetes does increase your chance of developing certain eye problems, but there are still ways to preserve your vision. Make sure to visit your ophthalmologist for thorough eye tests for early detection. Actively manage your diabetes to combat any of its side effects to other parts of your body. This month, prioritize your eye health and seek treatment if you suspect a diabetic eye disease.