What Is Diabetic Eye Disease - And Are You at Risk?

eye, diabetes, eye disease

When most people think of diabetes, they think about the effect the disease has on blood sugar levels. But there's a lot more to diabetes than that. That elevated blood sugar level can take a toll on your overall health and your organs - including your eyes. In fact, people with diabetes are more likely to experience serious vision-impairing disorders and diseases, and taken together, these diseases are what’s known as diabetic eye disease.

Understanding diabetic eye disease

The three primary diseases included in diabetic eye disease are diabetic retinopathy (DR), glaucoma and cataracts. Although all three conditions can cause vision loss, the way they affect your eyes differs significantly, and so do their treatment options.

Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is the least common of these three diseases, affecting about 8 million people in the United States, a number that’s expected to grow over the next two decades. DR affects the retina, the light-sensitive part of the eye. Located at the very back of the eye, the retina is packed with special “rod” and “cone” cells that gather light data, which is sent via the optic nerve to the brain. The brain “translates” that data into the images you see.

Diabetic retinopathy can be divided into two “types,” depending on how far the disease has progressed:

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is another condition of diabetic eye disease. Your eye contains fluid that’s constantly draining and being replenished. In glaucoma, this fluid doesn’t drain properly, and pressure inside the eye increases as a result. Over time, the increased pressure can damage the optic nerve, which means it won’t be able to send light data to your brain. There are three primary types of glaucoma:

Cataracts

A cataract affects the eye’s clear lens, located behind the iris. The lens helps focus light on the light-sensitive retina so the images you see are crisp and clear. As we age, this lens can become clouded and yellow as proteins inside the lens begin to clump and stick together. The cloudy lens is called a cataract. Cataracts are also more common among people with diabetes, forming when a glucose derivative called sorbitol is deposited in the lens.

Preventing vision loss

If you have diabetes or if you’re at risk for diabetes, you should have regular eye exams, whether you have any noticeable symptoms or not. All three of these conditions - DR, glaucoma and cataracts - can cause very subtle symptoms in their early stages, which means damage could be occurring and you wouldn’t even know it. In fact, the glaucoma symptoms can be so subtle, the disease is often referred to as the “silent thief of sight.”

The key to slowing disease progression and preventing vision loss: Have regular comprehensive vision exams so your eye doctor can look for the early signs of disease and initiate treatment as soon as possible. With locations in Arlington and Mansfield, Texas, Paragon Eye Associates is recognized as a leading provider of diabetic eye care, using state-of-the-art technology to diagnose and manage diabetic eye disease so every patient can enjoy optimal vision at every age. To schedule your comprehensive eye exam, call our Arlington office at (817) 631-9824 or our Mansfield office at (817) 662-7979, or use our online contact form to learn more.

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