Diabetic Eye Disease FAQ
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease that affects the body’s ability to produce or use insulin effectively to control blood sugar (glucose) levels. Although glucose is an important source of energy for the body’s cells, too much glucose in the blood for a long time can cause damage in the heart, kidneys, and blood vessels, including the small blood vessels in the back of the eye or retina.
What is diabetic retinopathy?
The retina is the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye. When the blood vessels in the retina swell, leak, or close off completely — or if abnormal new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina — it’s called diabetic retinopathy.
Can diabetes affect your vision even if you don’t have diabetic retinopathy?
Yes. If your blood sugar levels fluctuate wildly, it can affect the shape of your eye’s lens, causing blurry vision. This blurred vision returns to normal after your blood sugar stabilizes, so maintaining good control of your blood sugar helps reduce episodes of blurry vision.
Who is at risk of diabetic vision complications?
Anyone with diabetes is at a higher risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, especially those with poor blood sugar control. The risk of diabetic retinopathy is also higher in people who:
- Are pregnant
- Are obese
- Have high blood pressure
- Have high blood lipids
- Are African- American, Hispanic, or Native American
What is nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR)?
Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy is the earliest stage of diabetic retinopathy. With this condition, damaged blood vessels in the retina begin to leak small amounts of blood and other fluid into the eye. Sometimes deposits of cholesterol or other fats from the blood may leak into the retina.
What is proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR)?
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy occurs when many of the blood vessels in the retina close, preventing adequate blood flow. The retina responds by growing new blood vessels, a process called neovascularization. But abnormalities in these new blood vessels prevent the retina from receiving proper blood flow. Scar tissue often accompanies the new vessels and may cause the retina to wrinkle or detach.
What’s the best treatment for diabetic retinopathy?
Prevention is the best treatment for diabetic retinopathy. Strict control of your blood sugar significantly reduces the long-term risk of vision loss. You can’t cure diabetic retinopathy with treatment, but you can slow the progression of vision loss. Without treatment, diabetic retinopathy progresses steadily to severe stages, requiring possible treatment like laser, anti-VEGF injections, and/or possible surgery.
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