Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is the leading cause of blindness from disease or injury among Americans younger than age 65.  Yet, many cases could be prevented with regular eye exams and appropriate treatment.

Generally, diabetics don’t develop diabetic retinopathy until they have had diabetes for several years. But it is unwise to wait that long for an eye exam.  If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, visit Frontier Eye Care dilated eye exam at least once a year.

How Does Diabetes Cause Diabetic Retinopathy?

Uncontrolled diabetes allows unusually high levels of blood sugar (hyperglycemia) to accumulate in blood vessels.  Eye damage occurs when the high blood sugar damages blood vessels within the eye’s retina, which contains light-sensitive cells (photoreceptors) necessary for good vision.

Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

Early diabetic retinopathy usually has no symptoms.  During more advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy (or other eye problems related to diabetes), you may notice symptoms such as:

  • Sudden appearance of eye floaters,
  • Development of a shadow in your vision
  • Blurry or distorted vision
  • Shift in eyeglass prescription
  • Double vision
  • Eye pain
  • Cataracts

During your eye examination, Dr. Alden will look for other signs of diabetic retinopathy and diabetic eye disease.  Signs of eye damage found in the retina can include swelling, deposits, and evidence of bleeding or leakage of fluids from blood vessels.

For a definitive diagnosis of bleeding or leakage in your retina, we may perform a painless diagnostic test called optical coherence tomography (OCT).  This test allows us to image the layers of your retina.  If swelling or fluid is detected, we will refer you to a retinal specialist for treatment to stop the blood vessels from leaking.

Preventing Diabetic Retinopathy

If you want to avoid diabetic retinopathy or control its progress, try these tips:

  • Keep blood sugar within normal limits.
  • Monitor blood pressure and keep it under good control.
  • Maintain a healthy diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions to the letter.
  • Above all, make sure you have regular eye exams!

How tightly you control your blood sugar is a major factor determining how likely you are to develop diabetic retinopathy.  A test from your physician, called hemoglobin A1c, can measure how well you have been controlling your blood sugar over the prior three months.  Be sure to ask your family physician what your A1c levels are.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension) has also been associated with eye damage related to diabetes.  So be sure to have your blood pressure checked as well.

Of course, the longer you have diabetes the more likely you are to have vision loss.  Diabetes, if uncontrolled, can cause irreversible blindness.  To lower your risk of diabetic retinal diseases, follow the guidelines listed above and have your eye checked regularly.

If you are diabetic (or have a family history of diabetes) schedule your comprehensive dilated eye exam every year with Frontier Eye Care in Casper at (307) 472-2020.