Diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease that only affects diabetics. It occurs when the fragile vascular network that supplies the retina – the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye that helps us see – begins to swell or leak. During the beginning stages of the disease, there may be no noticeable symptoms, so it’s important to have your eyes checked at least once a year with today's latest technology if you have diabetes.
Once symptoms of diabetic retinopathy do develop, they can include: dark or black spots in your visual field, or blurry vision, and it increases over time. This is a result of bleeding at the back of the eye, which prevents a clear image from being transmitted from the retina to the brain.
Whether you have type 1, type 2, or even just gestational diabetes, you are at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy. The longer you have had the disease, the greater the risk. It is essential to keep your blood sugar levels under control to prevent vision loss, and this may require a trip back to your primary care physician.
Treating diabetic retinopathy can include vitrectomy, replacing the inner gel-like substance that supports the eyeball structure, and laser surgery.
In addition to diabetic retinopathy, diabetics are at an increased risk for glaucoma and cataracts, which in turn, can lead to blindness. The bottom line is that it is crucial for diabetics to keep their blood sugar under control. Other points to remember:
- Control your blood pressure.
- Lose weight.
- If you smoke, quit immediately.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and take vitamin C.
- Wear sunglasses whenever you go outside, to protect your eyes from UV rays, and because of the increased sensitivity to light that diabetics often experience
Regular eye exams with an optometrist, at least once a year, can help to prevent your eye conditions from getting worse. Make sure your eye doctor knows you are a diabetic, so he or she can perform a thorough exam - including pupil dilation. And of course, if your vision starts to deteriorate or you notice any changes, contact an optometrist as soon as possible.
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Proper diabetic eye care involves comprehensive eye exams at least once a year in order to minimize the risk of diabetes-related eye conditions going undetected and untreated.