Diabetes is a disease that affects millions in the United States alone. Diabetes causes the body to have difficulty regulating blood sugar levels. Elevated blood sugar levels can cause damage to blood vessels throughout the body, creating problems with kidneys, nerves and eyes. In fact, diabetes is the most common cause of blindness among Caucasians in this country.
Blindness from diabetes is preventable, but only if you're getting regular eye examinations to catch diabetic eye damage (called diabetic retinopathy) before permanent vision loss occurs.
Diabetes causes vision loss by damaging the small blood vessels in the retina of the eye. Once the blood vessels are damaged, they stop carrying enough blood to the retina or can begin to leak. The retina tries to stimulate the growth of new blood vessels to bring it more blood, but these new blood vessels grow in the wrong places and can cause bleeding or scar tissue inside the eye, causing vision loss.
If your doctor suspects that leaky blood vessels are present or that new vessels are growing in your eye, we might perform a fluorescein angiogram test. For this study, some yellow dye will be injected into a vein of your hand or arm through an IV, and photographs will be taken of your eye as the dye circulates through the blood vessels of your eye. In this way, your doctor can see where the dye is leaking or if new vessels are present, and can better determine the extent of the diabetic retinopathy.
Another test often performed is a macula OCT (ocular coherence tomography) to detect any swelling in the retina from diabetes or other eye diseases.
If you have diabetes, you must have an eye examination at least once a year. Your eye doctor can see early changes in the blood vessels before any vision loss occurs, and this is the time that treatment is most effective. Once vision loss occurs, it is often permanently gone and cannot be restored.
Treatment for diabetic retinopathy takes several forms. The most important step is prevention, which you can do by controlling your sugar levels, usually through a combination of diet, pills, and insulin injections. Controlling your sugar levels prevents or delays diabetic retinopathy.
Once leaky vessels develop or new blood vessels have begun to grow, laser therapy is required to stop the leaking or to make the vessels stop growing. Laser therapy is safe and effective, and is performed onsite at Eye Center of Central Georgia. Once diabetic retinopathy has reached the advanced stages, complicated eye surgery by a retina specialist is often required.
Remember, blindness from diabetic retinopathy is preventable. If you have diabetes and haven't had an eye examination in the past year, please call our office today for an appointment.