Diabetes is a systemic disease in which abnormal levels of sugar (glucose) build up in the bloodstream. The excess glucose causes changes that ultimately damage the walls of small arteries throughout the body. In turn, the reduced vessel function compromises many of the body’s systems.
Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the retina’s blood vessels swell, leak, or close off, which can cause abnormal new blood vessels to develop on the retina.
This photo shows advanced diabetic retinopathy with retinal hemorrhages (dark area) and lipid exudates (yellow spots), both of which can lead to loss of vision.
Early-stage diabetic retinopathy can be mild and may require no treatment. In advanced stages, however, it can lead to bleeding in the eye, retinal tears or detachments, and blindness.
When affected vessels are situated inside the macula (the central part of the retina responsible for seeing in fine detail), the patient will notice their vision blurring.
When affected vessels are situated outside the macula, however, the patient may not notice anything - but significant damage is already underway.
Treatments for diabetic retinopathy vary widely depending on the severity of the disease and the location of the affected areas.
Diabetic patients who don't have a diabetic retinopathy diagnosis can be seen by their eye specialist once a year. For diabetic patients who have been diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, the frequency of visits will be determined after a comprehensive eye exam and consultation with the doctor.
If the retinal damage is extensive, Dr. Besser may refer you to a retinal subspecialist for further management.
The excess blood sugar associated with diabetes can also cause cataracts or clouding of the natural lens, requiring cataract surgery.
Glaucoma is a disease that damages the eyes’ optic nerve due to increased intra-ocular pressure. Having diabetes can substantially increase the odds of developing glaucoma.