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Human Eye Diseases: What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes is a disease that interferes with the body’s ability to use and store sugar, which can cause damage to nerves, kidneys, circulatory system and eyes. In fact, diabetics are twice as likely as non-diabetics to develop eye problems, and diabetes is the leading cause of adult blindness in the U.S. Almost half of all Americans with diabetes have some degree of diabetic retinopathy, the most common diabetic eye disease.

Diabetic retinopathy is a human eye disease which occurs when too much sugar in your blood damages the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina. The vessels become blocked, and blood supply to the retina is cut off, which can result in vision loss. In order to get the nourishment it needs, the eye attempts to grow new blood vessels. Because they develop improperly, these fragile new vessels can leak blood into the back of the eye, causing a loss of vision.

Everyone with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes is at risk for diabetic retinopathy, which is why yearly eye exams are crucial. The longer you’ve had diabetes, the greater your risk of developing this eye disease, especially if your blood sugar is poorly controlled. Your risk also increases if you are Hispanic or African American, if you smoke, if you are pregnant, or if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

Diabetic retinopathy often has no symptoms in the early stages of the disease, so you may have the condition and not know it. As the eye disease progresses, symptoms, which usually affect both eyes, may include:

Spots or dark strings floating in your vision (floaters); blurred or hazy vision; fluctuating vision; dark or empty areas in your vision; distorted central vision; difficulty with color perception; difficulty seeing well at night; and vision loss.

But don’t wait for symptoms. Only an ophthalmologist can detect the signs of diabetic retinopathy, so if you have diabetes, make sure to get regular eye exams to limit the potential for vision loss from this human eye disease.

Treatment varies depending on the extent of the disease, and is aimed at slowing or stopping its progression. In the early stages, treatment may not be needed, but it is imperative that an eye doctor monitor your eyes closely. In the mild to moderate stages of the disease, controlling your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol can help slow the progression of this eye disease. As the condition advances, laser surgery or a vitrectomy may be required to remove blood from the eye.

It’s important to detect diabetic retinopathy in the early stages of this human eye disease, and since you may not know there is any damage to your eyes until the problem is severe, it’s imperative that diabetics get yearly comprehensive dilated eye exams (possibly more often if you are pregnant). The best way to prevent or slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy is to carefully control your blood sugar level. Also, keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control, take your medication as prescribed, follow your doctor’s advice for diet and exercises, and don’t smoke.

For more information on the human eye disease, diabetic retinopathy, check out these websites:

–http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/diabetic/retinopathy.asp

–http://www.aoa.org/x4712.xml

–http://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/diabetic.htm

If you have diabetes, call your ophthalmologist for an appointment today, especially if it’s been more than a year since your last eye exam.

human eye diseaseDr. Ronald J. Martin of VisionHealth Optometry focuses on quality eye care services to family members of all ages. Services include eye exams, contact lens fittings, retinal photography, pre- and post-operative care, and glasses frames and lens selection. Dr. Martin’s office is located at 1440 Medical Center Dr. Suite 2, Rohnert Park, CA 94928. He can be reached at 707-206-0290 or email him at questions@vision-health.com.  Visit VisionHealth Optometry online at  http://www.vision-health.com or the Facebook site at VisionHealth Optometry.

Dr. Martin is a member of the California Optometric Association, the American Optometric Association, the Redwood Empire Optometric Society, and the Optometry Alumni Association of the University of California.

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