by Arghavan Almony, MD
Diabetic retinopathy is an eye problem caused by diabetes mellitus. It affects the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye. Retinopathy occurs when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels in the retina. This damage can lead to problems with vision, including blindness. It is possible to prevent severe vision problems by:
keeping diabetes and blood pressure under control; scheduling regular eye exams; and receiving early treatment for retinopathy.
High blood sugar levels damage small blood vessels. The weakened blood vessels may break and leak fluid and blood. Also, new abnormal blood vessels may grow. These new blood vessels can bleed, cause cloudy vision and destroy the retina. The longer someone has had diabetes, especially if blood sugar has been poorly controlled, the greater the likelihood of developing retinopathy.
Diabetic retinopathy begins before any symptoms are present. As the problem gets worse, blurred vision, floaters (black spots or cobweb-like shapes), and temporary or permanent blindness may occur.
Your eye doctor will examine your eyes using an ophthalmoscope (an instrument for seeing inside the eye). Several pictures may also be taken at the time of the examination to determine the severity of the diabetic retinopathy.
Early treatment before the retina has been badly damaged is the most successful way to reduce vision loss from this disease. Your eye surgeon may use a laser or injection of medicine into the eye to seal leaking blood vessels. The surgeon may also use a laser to destroy abnormal blood vessels. If you have had bleeding into the clear gel (vitreous) that fills the inside of the eye, the eye surgeon may do surgery to remove the gel in a procedure, which is called a vitrectomy.
To help prevent diabetic retinopathy, work closely with your medical doctor to control your blood sugar and blood pressure. Stop smoking, as smoking may speed up the development of retinopathy. Finally, follow a diet and health care plan for your diabetes so you have fewer complications. Call your doctor right away if you start seeing dark spots, floaters, light flashes or your vision is blocked, blurred or distorted.
Dr. Almony, a diabetic eye, retina and vitreous specialist at Carolina Eye Associates, can be reached at 910-295-2100 or visit www.carolinaeye.com.