Patients with diabetes may develop an eye disease called diabetic retinopathy. This occurs when high blood sugar levels cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina. The retina is a specialized tissue in the back of the eye that perceives light and allows us to see. When the blood vessels become damaged, patients can develop bleeding or swelling of the retina, which leads to reduced vision. In severe cases, the blood vessels may close and stop the blood supply to the retina. This can result in abnormal, new blood vessels growing in the retina. Unfortunately, these new blood vessels bleed easily and form scar tissue that often leads to development of retinal tears and retinal detachments. Unfortunately, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working age Americans.
In early stages, diabetic retinopathy can be improved with treatment. Treatment options include: laser retinal surgery, injection of medications, or in advanced cases, surgery with a specialized retina surgeon. It is important for signs of diabetic retinopathy to be diagnosed early when treatment is still an option.
Diabetic retinopathy is most common in patients who have had diabetes for many years and in those who require insulin. However, it is still seen in about 20% of patients at the time their diabetes is first diagnosed. For these reasons, it is important that all patients with diabetes have an examination with an ophthalmologist shortly after the diabetes is diagnosed and at least yearly thereafter.
During your exam, your eyes will be dilated with eye drops to allow your doctor a better view of your retina using a special lens. At the Eye Clinic of Meridian, we also have specialized cameras with the latest technology that can look at your retina in detail to find any early signs of diabetes.