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Detecting Eye Diseases and Conditions

Who's at Risk for Diabetic Eye Disease?

Everyone with diabetes, type 1 and type 2, is at risk for diabetic eye disease. The longer you have diabetes, the more your risk grows. According to the National Eye Institute, up to 45% of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have some form of diabetic retinopathy. 

One problem with identifying yourself as being at risk is that proliferative retinopathy and macular swelling can develop without any symptoms. Sometimes vision remains unaffected as the eye disease progresses. Nevertheless, your risk of eventual vision loss is high – that’s one reason why routine eye exams are necessary. 

Symptoms of Diabetic Eye Disease

Like diabetes, early symptoms of diabetic retinopathy may not be noticed for some time. Don't wait for symptoms to appear before taking action. If you've been diagnosed with diabetes, schedule a complete eye exam with your eye doctor once a year, or more often if needed. If you delay treatment until vision is noticeably affected, it may be less effective. 

See your eye doctor right away if you notice these symptoms: 

  • Blurred vision – this is very common in people with diabetes who have unstable blood sugar levels even without the presence of retinopathy.
  • "Floaters" that swim in and out of your vision in one eye that last longer than a few days. These may be ordinary harmless floaters, but if you have diabetes especially, floaters may be the sign of bleeding in the back of the eye. New floaters are always a reason for seeing an eye doctor -- especially when you have diabetes.

Treatment of Diabetic Eye Disease

"Scatter" laser treatment (pan-retinal photocoagulation) is effective for treating new blood vessels before or after they begin to bleed. Severe bleeding may be treated with a surgical procedure (vitrectomy) by removing blood from the center of the eye.

"Focal" laser treatment may be done to stabilize vision. This therapy may reduce vision loss by up to 50%.

These laser treatments may reduce the risk of serious vision loss and blindness. But they cannot cure diabetic eye disease. They cannot bring back lost vision or prevent future vision loss. 

Newly developed medications can be injected into the eye to treat the complications of diabetes.

Steps to Prevent Diabetic Eye Disease

More than a third of people with diabetes don't get proper vision care. This puts them at higher risk for blindness. If you have diabetes, be vigilant about eye and vision care.  People with diabetes, even those without diagnosed eye disease, need to see their eye doctor once a year. Those with diabetic changes in their eyes need to be seen more frequently.

Keeping your blood sugar tightly controlled and your blood pressure within the normal range both help as well. Always follow your doctor's recommendations regarding medication, diet, and exercise. 

WebMD Medical Reference

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