Did you know that diabetic eye disease is the most common cause of blindness in the U.S.? Diabetes is an increasingly common disease in the U.S. and it affects your vision because high blood sugar levels damage blood vessels throughout the body, including those in the eyes. When the condition is caught early and treated properly, vision loss from diabetic eye disease is often preventable. However, if not detected early, diabetes can cause several complications for your vision, including blindness.
The retina is of particular concern for people with diabetes. High blood glucose levels can damage blood vessels in the retina, which lines the back of your eye and detects light. When blood vessels in the retina are damaged, permanent vision loss can occur.
Unfortunately, diabetic eye disease has no symptoms. However, ophthalmologists are able to detect small weak spots and hemorrhages on the retina before permanent vision loss occurs, which is why people with diabetes must have a comprehensive exam at least once a year.
If you are diabetic (type I or type II), your risk for developing eye disease may be increased by various factors, including:
- How long you’ve been diabetic
- How well you control your blood sugar levels
- How well you maintain your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Use of tobacco products
- Being African American, Hispanic, or Native American
There are two main eye conditions involving the retina that are caused by diabetes. Background diabetic retinopathy involves the weak spots and hemorrhages that occur when the blood vessels in the retina swell and rupture. When blood vessels swell in the center of the retina, or the macula, it’s considered diabetic macular edema (DME), which is a serious eye condition. DME symptoms are similar to diabetic retinopathy symptoms, but most often more severe.
As more and more blood vessels swell or rupture, your risk of serious vision loss increases. Over time, your body will try to grow new blood vessels on the retina to replace the ruptured vessels. This is known as proliferative diabetic eye disease and, although less common than background diabetic eye disease, is much more likely to result in impaired vision or vision loss.
If proliferative diabetic eye disease is detected before your vision is damaged, it can be treated with laser therapy. However, once you’ve lost some or all of your vision, it’s very difficult to restore it. Because background diabetic and early proliferative diabetic retinopathy have no symptoms, the only way to know if you need laser therapy to save your eyesight is to visit your eye doctor annually for a comprehensive exam.
At Baptist Eye Surgeons, we have extensive expertise and experience with a wide range of eye disorders, including the diagnosis and treatment of diabetic eye diseases.
With offices in Knoxville, TN and Morristown, TN, Baptist Eye Surgeons is an ophthalmological practice dedicated to providing quality eye care to patients whose needs range from routine comprehensive eye examinations to complex eye surgeries. To learn about our specialities and our doctors, visit our website. We also invite you to schedule a free consultation with one of our trusted eye surgeons in Knoxville or Morristown, or call us at 865-579-3920.