What is diabetic eye disease?
Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye problems that can affect people with diabetes. With time, diabetes can cause damage to the eyes that may result in poor vision and even blindness. The most common conditions that threaten the sight of people with diabetes include diabetic maculopathy and diabetic retinopathy.
Having diabetes also increases your risk of developing cataracts and glaucoma.
Diabetic maculopathy impacts central vision and is caused by swelling of the macula (the central part of the retina) due to damaged and leaky blood vessels. This can result in decreased or distorted vision, wherein objects may look wavy or crooked.
Diabetic retinopathy is caused by damaged blood vessels that starve the retina of oxygen, resulting in the formation of abnormal new blood vessels that may leak, bleed or create scar tissue. This condition can result in significant vision loss if left undetected and untreated.
Diabetic eye disease symptoms
There are typically no early symptoms of diabetic eye disease. As the disease progresses, you may experience more noticeable symptoms, such as:
- Blurry, wavy vision
- Spots or dark strings interfering with vision (floaters)
- Fluctuating vision
- Dark or empty areas in your vision
- Flashes of light
- Vision loss
Causes of diabetic eye disease
As mentioned, most diabetic eye diseases are related to the damage that occurs to blood vessels due to long-term high blood sugar levels.
While anyone with diabetes can develop diabetic eye disease, additional factors can increase your risk. These may include:
- Duration of diabetes
- Poor control of blood sugar levels
- Having high blood pressure
- Having high cholesterol
Diabetic eye disease prevention
The best way to prevent diabetic eye disease is to manage your diabetes carefully and to ensure your blood pressure and cholesterol are well-controlled. Cessation of smoking is also important.
If you have diabetes, regular comprehensive eye exams to monitor the health of your eyes are important. Additionally, any new visual changes warrant a semi-urgent check up with your optometrist or ophthalmologist. Diagnosing diabetic eye disease early can help prevent severe vision loss.
Diagnosis of diabetic eye disease
Diagnosing diabetic eye disease involves a routine eye examination, including the use of dilating drops to widen your pupils to allow a thorough assessment of your macula and retina. Usually, retinal photographs and scans are required to document the extent of any changes present, and also to allow monitoring. In some cases, a special test known as a fluorescein angiogram is used to determine the nature and location of any abnormal or leaking blood vessels in the macula and retina.
Diabetic eye disease treatment
If you are only in the early stages of diabetic eye disease, you may not need treatment. However, if vision has been impacted, or if there is a high chance or vision becoming affected, treatment will be required. Several options are available to treat diabetic eye disease, and your ophthalmologist will help determine which is the most appropriate for you.
Anti-VEGF drugs are the most common treatment method. These medications are administered directly into the eye to block the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the eye and prevent fluid leaks. This treatment can help improve vision and stop further vision loss. Laser treatments can also help shrink blood vessels, prevent leaking and reduce swelling in the retina.
In some cases, diabetic eye disease results in retinal bleeding and scar tissue that requires surgery to manage.
Get in touch to see Dr Juanita Pappalardo
Dr Pappalardo is a Specialist Ophthalmologist with broad experience in treating a range of common eye diseases, including diabetic eye disease. If you believe that you have diabetic eye disease, get in touch to plan your visit with Dr Pappalardo.