An estimated 24 million Americans now have diabetes, with the number expected to grow at least five percent annually in future years. One serious consequence of the disease can be vision loss or blindness. November is Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, and local ophthalmologist Jonathan M. Frantz, MD, FACS, joins the American Academy of Ophthalmology in urging anyone who may be at risk for diabetes to see their ophthalmologist and primary care physician. The earlier diabetes is caught and appropriate lifestyle changes and treatment begin, the better the chance of avoiding vision loss and other health consequences.
Diabetic Retinopathy, a condition occurring in persons with diabetes, causes progressive damage to the retina, the light sensitive lining at the back of your eye. It is a serious sight-threatening complication of diabetes.
Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include:
• Seeing spots or floaters in your field of vision
• Blurred vision
• Having a dark or empty spot in the center of your vision
• Difficulty seeing well at night
“The doctors at Florida Eye Health work with area primary care doctors to provide quality, patient-focused eye care that is so important to patients with diabetes,” said Dr. Frantz. He explained that prolonged periods of high blood sugar can lead to the accumulation of fluid in the lens inside the eye that controls eye focusing. This changes the curvature of the lens and results in the development of symptoms of blurred vision. The blurring of distance vision as a result of lens swelling will subside once the blood sugar levels are brought under control. Better control of blood sugar levels in patients with diabetes also slows the onset and progression of diabetic retinopathy.
An eye doctor is an important member of the diabetes health care team. Often there are no visual symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. Part of living with diabetes and successful eye care is having a comprehensive dilated eye examination on at least an annual basis – more often for people with existing eye issues or more serious retinopathy. Early detection and treatment can limit the potential for significant vision loss from diabetic retinopathy.
Treatment of diabetic retinopathy depends on the stage of the disease and is directed at trying to slow or stop the progression of the disease. In the early stages of Non-proliferative Diabetic
Retinopathy, treatment other than regular monitoring may not be required. Following your doctor’s advice for diet and exercise and keeping blood sugar levels controlled can help control the progression of the disease.
If the disease advances, leakage of fluid from blood vessels can lead to macular edema, and may require laser surgery to seal leaking blood vessels or to discourage new leaky blood vessels from forming. Eye medications may be needed to decrease inflammation or stop the formation of new blood vessels. In more advanced cases, a surgical procedure to remove and replace the gel-like fluid in the back of the eye, called the vitreous, may be needed. A retinal detachment, defined as a separation of the light-receiving lining in the back of the eye, resulting from diabetic retinopathy, may also require surgical repair.