Diabetic Eye Care
Patients with diabetes are at an increased risk of developing eye diseases that can lead to vision loss and blindness, such as diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and glaucoma. In fact, diabetes is actually the leading cause of blindness in the United States.
Diabetic eye conditions often develop without any noticeable vision loss or pain, so significant damage may already be done to the eye by the time patients notice any symptoms. For this reason, it is important for diabetic patients to have their eyes examined at least once a year. Early detection of eye disease can help prevent permanent damage.
Diabetic-related eye problems develop from high blood sugar levels, which can cause damage to blood vessels in the eye. Over 40 percent of diabetic patients will develop some form of eye disease in their life. The risk of developing eye problems can be reduced through regular eye exams and by keeping blood sugar levels under control through a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common type of diabetic eye disease and the leading cause of blindness in the US. This condition is caused by blood vessel changes within the retina that lead to swelling and leaking of fluid. It can also cause growth of abnormal new blood vessels on the surface of the retina. There are four stages of diabetic retinopathy that begin with the occurrence of microaneurysms and eventually lead to abnormal blood vessels on the surface of the retina that can easily leak fluid and cause severe vision loss and even blindness.
The fluid can also leak into the center of the macula and cause swelling and blurred vision, a condition known as macular edema. The risk of developing macular edema increases as diabetic retinopathy progresses.
Treatment of Diabetic Eye Conditions
Treatment for early stages of diabetic retinopathy and other conditions usually focuses on maintaining levels of blood sugar, blood pressure and blood cholesterol, in order to prevent any permanent damage from occurring. For more advanced stages of the condition, laser surgery is often effective in shrinking the abnormal blood vessels through over 1,000 laser burns in the area of the retina. This procedure, known as scatter laser treatment, usually requires two or more sessions in order to fully remove the blood vessels.
Macular edema can also be treated through a laser procedure, called focal laser treatment, which places hundreds of laser burns in the area of retinal leakage to reduce the amount of fluid in the retina. This treatment only requires one treatment.
The cornea is the clear covering of the front of the eye which bends, or refracts, light rays as they enter the eye. For clear vision to occur, the cornea must have the correct shape and clarity to focus incoming light rays precisely on the retina at the back of the eye. When the cornea becomes cloudy or misshapen from injury, infection or disease, transplantation may be recommended to replace it.
There are several different corneal transplant procedures available to help restore vision in patients with corneal problems. The traditional corneal transplant procedure involves replacing the entire damaged cornea with a healthy one from a human donor, which is usually obtained from an eye bank. However, technological advances have allowed for the development of specialized procedures that replace only the damaged part of the cornea, while leaving the healthy parts intact.