November may be the prime time to begin planning for a joyful holiday season, but it’s also Diabetic Eye Disease Month. Studies indicate that approximately 40 percent of those with Type I or Type II diabetes will at some point develop an eye disease related to their primary health condition. As much as we can, we do our part to reduce our patients’ risks. One of the primary ways to do this is through education.
The Progressive Nature of Diabetic Eye Disease
Having diabetes may mean that your blood sugar is typically higher than it should be. For some, blood sugar varies from the low spectrum to the high; rarely does it lie within normal range. Over time, this causes damage in the delicate blood vessels that sit around the retina at the back of the eye. The good news is that this occurs in stages. The bad news is that there are few, if any, symptoms to let you know that your vision is being threatened. Diabetic eye disease follows the progression of:
- Mild blood vessel damage. This is called mild non-proliferative retinopathy, and it involves areas of swelling and weakening in the tiny blood vessels in the retina. In this stage, blood and fluid may leak from a few affected blood vessels.
- Moderate blood vessel damage. This is called moderate non-proliferative retinopathy, and it includes swelling and leakage that is severe enough to decrease the circulation of blood in the eye. The retina relies on good circulation for nutrients. Without it, characteristics of this part of the eye change.
- Retinal changes that occur in severe non-proliferative retinopathy involve growth factor secretion. This happens because the eye wants more nourishment and needs blood vessels to get it. In this stage of disease, new blood vessel growth occurs in and around the retina.
- Bleeding and scarring. Advanced retinopathy becomes proliferative, meaning that the newly formed blood vessels lead even more fluid into the back of the eye. Furthermore, proliferative diabetic retinopathy may involve scarring around broken blood vessels. Scars can tug the retina away from surrounding tissue (retinal detachment), causing vision loss.
- Macular edema. Edema is the medical term for swelling. Macular edema is swelling at the central region of the retina, the area that establishes the central field of vision.
Diabetic eye disease is a complication of diabetes that we would never want to overlook. While we must not gloss over the fact that diabetic eye disease can be serious, we can focus on how to protect vision. Patients are encouraged to obtain yearly dilated eye exams in our Mililani office for the earliest detection of changes in the retina. Diabetes management with the help of a trusted medical team is also beneficial.
Schedule a diabetic eye exam with us at 808.625.5577.