Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye problems that specifically affect people with diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, cataracts, and glaucoma are all eye conditions that can develop when blood sugar levels are too high. If left untreated, all forms of diabetic eye disease can cause severe vision loss or permanent blindness.
The retina is the thin, light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye. Its purpose is to turn light into visual signals that are transmitted to the brain via the optic nerve. In people with diabetes, high glucose levels can cause blood vessels in the retina to grow weak, bulge, or leak. This is known as diabetic retinopathy. As the disease worsens, abnormal blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina, which can lead to serious vision problems. Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss in people with diabetes, as well as the leading cause of visual impairment and blindness in adults.
Diabetic macular edema, or DME, is a consequence of diabetic retinopathy — nearly half of all people with diabetic retinopathy will develop DME. The condition occurs when fluid starts to build-up in the macula, a small area of the retina that’s responsible for sharp central vision. People with DME may have difficulty reading, writing, recognizing faces, or driving.
People with diabetes are 2-5 times more likely to develop cataracts, a clouding of the eye’s natural lens. Over time, cataracts can lead to blurry vision and make it difficult to perform daily activities. The only way to “cure” cataracts is to remove the lens of the eye and replace it with an artificial lens during cataract surgery. Maintaining control of blood sugar levels can help prevent cataracts from forming.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve, which can lead to irreversible vision loss. Having diabetes can double the risk of developing glaucoma.
Vision loss as a result of diabetic retinopathy is most often irreversible. Early detection and treatment are the best ways to reduce your risk of blindness. People with diabetes should schedule a comprehensive eye exam at least once a year. If you have diabetic retinopathy, your doctor may recommend more frequent eye exams.
Research shows that the best way to slow the onset of diabetic eye disease is to control blood sugar levels. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine are also known to reduce the risk of vision loss in people with diabetes.
Anti-VEGF drugs are used to treat diabetic retinopathy or diabetic macular edema. The injections block a protein known as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which stimulates the growth of abnormal blood vessels in patients with diabetic eye disease. Avastin, Lucentis, and Eylea are the anti-VEGF drugs available to treat diabetic retinopathy and DME. Anti-VEGF injections are often recommended as a first-time treatment for diabetic eye disease.
Laser surgery is used to slow the leakage of fluid and reduce retinal swelling in patients with diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema. The procedure is typically done in one in-office session, but some patients may require more than one treatment. Laser surgery can be performed before an anti-VEGF injection, or if anti-VEGF therapy has failed to improve diabetic retinopathy or DME.
Corticosteroids may be used alone or in combination with anti-VEGF drugs or laser surgery to treat DME. Corticosteroids may increase the risk of glaucoma or cataracts — patients are monitored for increased eye pressure if corticosteroids are used in treatment for diabetic eye disease.
The Medical Eye Center is a premier provider of treatment for diabetic eye disease in Manchester and Bedford, NH. Schedule an appointment to discuss options to treat diabetic retinopathy or diabetic macular edema today.