Diabetes is a systemic disease that negatively affects the way your body produces or responds to the hormone insulin, which is responsible for regulating the amount of sugar in your blood. When not regulated properly, diabetes causes your blood sugar to go up, resulting in a number of issues throughout the body, including in your eyes. The most common eye condition caused by diabetes is diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetes and Diabetic Retinopathy
Extended periods of high blood sugar caused by diabetes can begin to affect your vision and eye health by damaging the tiny blood vessels in the back of your eyes. This damage may cause these blood vessels to begin leaking fluid into the eye, resulting in a condition known as diabetic retinopathy.
The retina is a photosensitive layer of tissue at the back of each eye, which senses light and turns it into visual information for your brain to decode. It is this area of the eye that is damaged when diabetes causes weakened blood vessels to bulge and begin leaking blood and other fluids.
At this early stage, known as non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, symptoms such as poor color vision and darkening or blurry vision may be minimal or non-existent.
If untreated, some blood vessels will close off, causing new blood vessels to grow on the surface of the retina. This is called proliferative diabetic retinopathy and can lead to serious vision problems and even blindness.
Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy
A number of possible treatment options are open to eye doctors, including medicine, laser treatments, surgery, or a combination of these options.
Your doctor may treat your eyes with certain medications such as bevacizumab, aflibercept or ranibizumab, which block the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the eye that cause proliferative retinopathy. These medicines can also stop fluid leaks, which can help treat swelling of the macula related to diabetes.
Laser treatments for diabetic retinopathy involve creating tiny burns inside the eye using a small laser. This helps address issues such as leaky blood vessels and extra fluid. This treatment is usually performed over the course of multiple office visits, using a local anesthetic to numb your eyes.
Your eye is filled with a clear fluid called vitreous gel, which helps the eye keep its shape. Vitrectomy is a surgery to remove this gel in order to address problems with severe bleeding or scar tissue caused by proliferative diabetic retinopathy.
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Can children develop diabetes?
Yes. Although diabetes can develop in children of any age, pediatric diabetes tends to be most common in children between the ages of 10 and 19. Children with a family history of diabetes and white children of non-Hispanic origin are also at increased risk of pediatric diabetes.
What are the main symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?
Especially during the early stages, symptoms of retinopathy are not always present, even when damage to your eyes is occurring. However, when they do occur, symptoms may include:
- Frequently changing vision—as often as every day
- Blurry vision
- Wavy vision
- Spots or dark strings (also called floaters)
- Poor color vision
- Noticeable dark areas in the field of vision
- Flashes of light