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Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetic eye disease can affect the retina, vitreous, lens, and optic nerve. Diabetic retinopathy is the most common form. Other eye diseases that can occur with diabetes are cataracts and glaucoma. People with diabetes should have an eye exam at least once a year to help prevent eye disease.

What Is Diabetic Eye Disease?

High blood glucose (blood sugar) and high blood pressure from diabetes can damage four parts of your eye:
 
  • Retina: The retina is the lining at the back of the eye. It is designed to sense light coming into the eye.
  • Vitreous: The vitreous is a jelly-like fluid that fills the back of the eye.
  • Lens: The lens is at the front of the eye. It focuses light onto the retina.
  • Optic nerve: The optic nerve is the eye's main nerve to the brain.
     
Diabetic retinopathy is the medical term for the most common diabetic eye disease. Two other common conditions are cataracts and glaucoma. People without diabetes can get these eye problems, too; however, people with diabetes get them more often and at a younger age.
 

Diabetic Retinopathy

Retina damage happens slowly. Your retinas have tiny blood vessels that are easy to damage. Having high blood glucose and high blood pressure for a long time can damage these tiny blood vessels.
 
First, these tiny blood vessels swell and weaken. Some blood vessels then become clogged and do not let enough blood through. At first, you might not have any loss of sight from these changes. This is why you need to have a dilated eye exam once a year even if your vision seems fine.
 
One of your eyes may be damaged more than the other, or both eyes may have the same amount of damage. As diabetic retinopathy becomes worse, new blood vessels grow. These new blood vessels are weak. They break easily and leak blood into the vitreous of your eye. The leaking blood keeps light from reaching the retina.
 
You may see floating spots or almost total darkness. Sometimes, the blood will clear out by itself; in other cases, surgery is required to remove it.
 
Over the years, the swollen and weak blood vessels can form scar tissue and pull the retina away from the back of the eye. If the retina becomes detached, you may see floating spots or flashing lights. You may feel as if a curtain has been pulled over part of what you are looking at. This condition can cause loss of sight or blindness if you don't take care of it right away.
 
Call your doctor right away if you are having any vision problems or if you have had a sudden change in your vision.
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