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What is diabetic eye disease?

Diabetic RetinopathyDiabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye problems that people with diabetes may face as an additional complication of their disease. This diesease can cause severe vision loss or even blindness. Some of the eye diseases associated with diabetes are: cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. For the purposes of this website page we will focus on diabetic retinopathy.

According to the National Eye Institute, it is estimated that nearly 5.4 million Americans, ages 18 and over currently have diabetic retinopathy. This eye disease causes over 8,000 cases of new blindness annually, and is the primary cause of blindness for people ages 25 to 74 (Valero and Drouilhet, 2001).

Understanding Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease and a leading cause of blindness in American adults. In the majority of diabetic retinopathy cases, blindness is completely preventable. Patients will need to work closely with their New Jersey diabetic retina eye doctors to monitor and treat this disease. The use of medications and daily blood sugar monitoring can make a major impact on containing the worsening of diabetic retinopathy.

The retina is the like the film in a photographic camera; in which it is the light sensing film on the back of the eye that captures the images. In the diabetes disease, sugar (glucose) builds up within blood vessels in the retina and tissues of the body causing it to attach to the proteins in the wall. This alters the vessel’s normal structure and functioning. The vessels eventually get blocked and leak fluid. When they cannot deliver an adequate amount of blood supply to the eye, the eye can generate abnormal new blood vessels. Early diabetic retinopathy usually has no symptoms, however, worsening diabetic retinopathy can lead to visual loss and blindness.

The stages of diabetic retinopathy are divided into two categories: nonproliferative retinopathy and proliferative retinopathy.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Nonproliferative Retinopathy

This is the first and earliest stage of diabetic retinopathy. NPDR occurs when the small blood vessels of the retina start to leak fluid or bleed. This activity will lead to the formation of deposits called exudates. When the leakage of these blood vessels causes swelling, macular edema sets in and the blood vessels can become blocked. This stage of diabetic retinopathy is common when a person develops diabetes. Most diabetics have some grade of NPDR. It is imperative to maintain regular eye examinations with the retina specialists to monitor and treat NPDR.

Proliferative Retinopathy

When new vessels start to grow as a result of the existing vessels becoming blocked, this marks the beginning of the next stage of diabetic retinopathy, proliferative diabetic retinopathy. This level of diabetic retinopathy is the most severe and dangerous for the diabetic patient. These new abnormal blood vessels can grow on the retina, optic nerve, iris or into the vitreous gel inside the eye; they tend to grow poorly and can be very fragile. The damage that these blood vessels bring to retina can be catastrophic and include: hemorrhages on the retina, scar tissues build up, and possible retina detachment.

Diabetic Eye Retinopathy - Causes and Risk Factors

Blood vessels damaged from diabetic retinopathy can cause vision loss in two ways:

  • Weak and abnormal blood vessels can develop and leak blood into the center of the eye, blurring vision.
  • Fluid can leak into the center of the macula, the fluid makes the macula swell, blurring vision. This condition is called macular edema. It can occur at any stage of diabetic retinopathy, although it is more likely to occur as the disease progresses.

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