Diabetic eye disease is a term used for a group of medical conditions that typically show no symptoms until the damage is significant. They can affect vision so badly that they lead to blindness.
High blood sugar can damage the organs and also cause diabetic eye disease as a result of diabetes. More specifically, it concerns a number of eye problems that affect people with this condition.
Experts often discuss the effects of diabetes on the heart. However, not much is heard about the effects on eyesight. However, diabetic eye diseases can lead to complete blindness. In other words, most of these conditions are due to poorly controlled diabetes.
Why does diabetic eye disease occur?
Diabetes is a chronic disease that has two causes: either the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin, or the body is unable to use it properly.
Insulin is the key substance here. It allows the sugar to get into the cells. If this does not succeed, the blood sugar level rises. This damages the tissue. According to the experts at the Mayo Clinic, this can lead to diabetic eye disease. A high blood sugar level damages the blood vessels on the back of the eye (retina).
Diabetes is considered a silent disease. If it goes undetected, it can lead to serious complications. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases noted that symptoms often don’t appear until medication changes. Or the disease is only recognized after a specific examination.
However, long-term damage occurs during the preliminary stages of diabetes. This is a phase when blood sugar levels are higher than normal. However, they are not high enough to be recognized as a disease.
The main types of diabetic eye disease
Diabetic eye disease is a group of eye problems that occur as a result of diabetes. The most common is diabetic retinopathy. Then comes diabetic macular edema, glaucoma and cataracts. Below we explain each of them in detail!
Diabetic retinopathy – the most important diabetic eye disease
This is a condition that results from damage to the blood vessels in the eye. These are the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to the retina. The retina is the light-sensitive layer that lines the inside of the eye. It is located in the back of the eye.
Diabetic retinopathy is one of the most common diabetic eye problems. It usually runs in stages. The American Academy of Ophthalmology declares non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy to be the first stage.
The blood vessels begin to weaken. There may be bleeding into the retina. At this point, diabetic macular edema occurs. This usually leads to blurred vision. In some cases, blood vessels may become empty.
The second stage is the proliferation stage. At this stage, new blood vessels grow (this process is also called neovascularization or angiogenesis). The regrowing vessels are weak. It follows that they are easily damaged and bleed.
Bleeding affects vision. Scar tissue can also form. This makes the inside of the eye increasingly opaque. As a result, the light can no longer properly reach the retina.
Diabetic macular oedema – a common diabetic eye disease
Diabetic macular oedema is also a common diabetic eye disease. As we explained in the previous section, it usually occurs with retinopathy. There is a build-up of fluid in the macula. This fluid causes inflammation.
The macula is the area near the centre of the retina. It is responsible for the central, high-resolution colour vision. Because of this, diabetic macular oedema can lead to loss of vision or even blindness over time.
This is another very common diabetic eye condition. It is caused by an increase in pressure inside the eye. The eye’s drainage system is damaged. As a result, fluid accumulates in the front of the eye.
The result is damage to the optic nerve. As the Mexican Diabetes Federation explains, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness. It is also considered to be the primary cause of irreversible blindness.
The risk of diabetics developing this disease is twice as high as that of healthy people. The symptoms usually appear insidious. In the process, eyesight is gradually lost.
This is a condition that is very common even in healthy people. In fact, it is linked to the ageing process. It is a process of wear and tear that causes the lens to become increasingly cloudy.
This makes it difficult to see clearly. Experts consider it to be another diabetic eye condition. Diabetes speeds up this process. In other words, those with diabetes develop cataracts at a younger age than the rest.
When should I see a specialist?
Diabetic eye disease is a term used to describe a group of conditions that usually have no symptoms. Only when the damage is significant do you become aware of it. Therefore, experts consider it essential that diabetics often undergo a comprehensive eye examination.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost all diabetic eye problems could be prevented. To do this, it is important to recognize the change at an early stage. It is also important to start with strict monitoring of blood sugar levels.
Health professionals recommend anyone diagnosed with diabetes to have a check-up at least once a year. For this purpose, an ophthalmoscope is done, for example. If you also have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you should have these tests done even more often.
A consistently high blood sugar level increases the risk of diabetic eye disease. This is why it is important for diabetics to control their blood sugar levels throughout the day. This allows you to customize your treatment to avoid insulin injections.
Remember: If you have been diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes, medical consultations and checkups are essential. Don’t wait until you experience symptoms or complications to see your doctor.
Treatment of diabetic eye disease
Medication can be used to treat the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. The most commonly used drugs are anti-VEGF agents and corticosteroids. The former reduces the growth of blood vessels around the retina. Medical professionals inject them into the eye. In addition, they also reduce macular edema.
Corticosteroids control the swelling of the edema. However, some cases do not respond to the medication. Then surgery is required. According to the Hospital Clinic de Barcelona, medical professionals must resort to surgery in the following cases:
- Very heavy or recurrent vitreous haemorrhage
- Macular edema that is unresponsive to treatment
- Retinal detachment
Diabetes is a silent disease
As mentioned above, diabetes is a silent disease. Diabetic eye diseases are a group of conditions that result from poor blood sugar control. Especially in people who were diagnosed with diabetes many years ago. The most important thing about these disorders is that most of them are preventable.
For this reason, it is imperative for these patients to see a doctor every six months or annually. Additionally, following all diet and lifestyle recommendations can reduce its incidence.