Many people don’t know that diabetes and eye health are related. Annual diluted eye exams are the most important thing diabetics can do to protect their eyesight. This can keep minor eye problems from becoming major ones. So make sure you’re making an effort to see an eye doctor once a year.
Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults 20 – 74, as it can lead to the development such common eye conditions as cataracts, retinopathy and glaucoma.
Diabetics are 60 percent more likely to develop cataracts, which is a clouding or fogging of the normally clear lens of the eye. They also tend to get cataracts at a younger age and have them progress more quickly.
Diabetic retinopathy, a vascular-related (or blood vessel) complication of diabetes, is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in America. It is often related to an individual’s high blood sugar levels. Very often there are no symptoms until the vision is severely damaged.
The most common form of the disease is nonproliferative retinopathy (or background retinopathy), where capillaries in the back of the eye balloon and form pouches. This condition may grow progressively worse over time. With proliferative retinopathy, the blood vessels become so damaged they close off. In response, new blood vessels start growing in the retina, often blocking vision. This can also cause scar tissue to grow.
Great strides have been made in the treatment of diabetic retinopathy through such procedures as scatter photocoagulation, intra ocular injections, focal photocoagulation and vitrectomy. Eye specialists get the best results when the patient’s sight is still normal, before bleeding or retinal detachment has progressed very far.
When fluid inside the eye does not drain properly, pressure builds up resulting in glaucoma. Diabetics have a 40 percent greater chance of glaucoma.
Patients with open-angle glaucoma – the most common form of the disease – often respond well to medication, laser procedures or surgery, which help lower the eye’s pressure. Again, patients usually experience no symptoms until the disease becomes advanced and there is significant vision loss.
Neovascular glaucoma is another form of glaucoma that commonly affects diabetics. These are patients who have had glaucoma for some time and are only now experiencing pain, red eyes and vision loss. It’s a very serious condition that is typically seen among individuals who have not controlled their diabetes well.
With this condition, new blood vessels grow on the iris, the colored part of the eye, blocking the normal flow of fluid out of the eye and raising the eye pressure. Eye surgeons treat it by injecting the eye with medication, which opens the window for surgery, before placing into the eye an Ahmed valve to lower the patient’s intra-ocular pressure.
Eye care is important and something we should be making time to get checked out. Ask your doctor about potential symptoms and signs to look out for.
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