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Question and Answers About Diabetic Eye Care

Older Man reading the newspaper in Colorado Springs, Colorado

Dr. Fedders Answers You Questions About Diabetes

Q: What does the diagnosis of Diabetes or Diabetic Retinopathy mean exactly? I’ve heard there are different types?

Yes, type 1 diabetes is when your immune system — which normally fights harmful bacteria or viruses — attacks and destroys your insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This leaves you with little or no insulin. Instead of being transported into your cells, sugar builds up in your bloodstream.

In type 2 diabetes your cells become resistant to the action of insulin, and your pancreas is unable to make enough insulin to overcome this resistance. Instead of moving into your cells where it’s needed for energy, sugar builds up in your bloodstream.

Diabetic retinopathy is when the blood vessels in the retina (back of the eye) are damaged from diabetes. It is the leading cause of vision loss in people aged 20-74 in the United States.

Q: I understand that Diabetes is common among those over 40 or with weight issues. What causes it? Are there other groups that are at a higher risk?

Type 2 diabetes used to be known as adult-onset diabetes, but today more children are being diagnosed with the disorder, probably due to the rise in childhood obesity. Type 2 diabetes develops when the body becomes resistant to insulin or when the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin. Exactly why this happens is unknown, although genetics and environmental factors, such as being overweight and inactive, seem to be contributing factors. There’s no cure for type 2 diabetes, but losing weight, eating well and exercising can help manage the disease. If diet and exercise aren’t enough to manage your blood sugar well, you may also need diabetes medications or insulin therapy.

Q: Please describe the typical progression for an individual with Diabetes regarding their eyesight?

The longer you are diabetic, the more likely you are to develop diabetic retinopathy. Over time, too much sugar in your blood can lead to the blockage of the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina, cutting off its blood supply. As a result, the eye attempts to grow new blood vessels. This damages the retina and can cause loss of vision.

Q: What happens during a typical Diabetic Eye Exam?

After assessing your vision, we will use dilating drops to open your pupils and allow the best view into your eyes. We examine the eyes carefully, looking for any changes in the blood vessels or hemorrhages in the retina.

Q: What treatment options and/or care is available for this condition?

Depending on the severity of diabetic retinopathy, there are different types of treatment. This includes laser and/or injections to stop the growth of new blood vessels.

Q: What are the risks and side effects associated with these treatments? What if you don’t proceed with treatment?

Possible side effects of treatment include redness of the eyes, eye pain, vitreous floaters, increased eye pressure and cataract. Leaving diabetic retinopathy untreated can lead to permanent vision loss.

Q: Will a change in a patient’s diet, exercise routine, or medication help at all?

Yes! Controlling blood sugar is very important. A healthy diet and exercise can improve blood glucose levels. If your doctor prescribes medication, it is important to use the drug as directed.