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In diabetic retinopathy, chronically elevated blood sugar levels interfere with circulatory function in the retina, causing small blood vessels to swell and rupture. This results in retinal swelling and clouded vision. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among Americans between the ages of 20 and 74 years. The CDC reports that an estimated 4.1 million people are affected by retinopathy and that an additional 899,000 patients have vision-threatening retinopathy.
If blood sugar (glucose) levels are too high for stretches of time, the capillaries (small blood vessels) that supply blood to the retina can be damaged. After a while, the capillaries start leaking fluids and fats. This in turn causes edema or swelling in the eyes. A condition called ischemia, in which the capillaries close off completely and blood supply to tissues is diminished, can also occur.
Diabetic Retinopathy is caused by cases of advanced diabetes in which blood sugar is not well controlled. The following factors can affect the condition:
There are several tests available to help diagnose diabetic retinopathy:
As with other eye conditions, diabetic retinopathy is usually asymptomatic at the beginning. As time goes by, your vision may become blurry and you may notice symptoms similar to the ones describes above for cataracts.
Early treatment can often slow the course of cataracts. Adherence to a healthy diet and regular administration of insulin can lower the risk of complications and blindness. Some patients, for unknown reasons, do lose their sight no matter what but many people have advanced diabetes for years and yet retain their vision.
In many cases, depending on the eye disease or condition you have and your response to treatment, your vision may not be not noticeably impaired and you won’t experience any pain or only mild discomfort. However, you may need to compensate for partial loss of vision if you have a condition such as wet AMD that can’t be treated. Ask your eye care specialist about low-vision rehabilitation devices and services that will help you learn coping strategies so that you can to continue to live independently.
Many people with some vision loss have to stop driving. If that happens to you, visit SeniorDrivingAAA.comto get information about affordable and convenient ways to maintain your mobility.
Here are some top tips for living well with vision impairment:
Serious eye diseases and conditions often have no symptoms until irreversible damage to vision has been done. If you wear prescription glasses and/or contacts, you probably go to an optometrist for an annual check-up to make sure your prescription hasn’t changed and to order a new batch of contacts if you’re running out of them. Optometrists conduct vision tests to check for basic vision impairment, and can prescribe glasses and contact lenses. They can also spot early warning signs and give you a referral to an ophthalmologist, an eye doctor with a medical doctor degree, for a more thorough examination. If you do not wear contact lenses or glasses, chances are you miss out this periodic optometric screening. Many times, family doctors with conduct a visual acuity test, which is a series of letters decreasing in size on a chart that patients are asked to read to the best of their ability. This gives doctors the opportunity to do as the optometrists would.
The standard recommendation for all adults over the age of 40 is to have an eye exam at least every two years, and for adults over 65, to have an eye exam every year. According to the National Federation of the Blind, prompt detection and treatment can preserve your vision for a lifetime even if you do contract a serious eye condition or disorder. Schedule an eye exam with an optometrist. If he or she spots any problems that may be of concern, you will most likely be referred to an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor specializing in eyes, for further testing. Be sure to make an appointment with the ophthalmologist and follow recommendations regarding the frequency of follow-ups should any diseases or conditions be detected.
People with diabetes or at risk of developing gestational diabetes are recommended to get additional ophthalmic screening. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends the eye screening schedule:
Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine, reminds us our best defense is to have regular checkups because eye diseases do not always have symptoms. Early detection and treatment are the keys to preventing vision loss.
Beyond that, a healthy diet that has sufficient vitamin and other nutrients will help keep your eyes lubricated and free of infections.
Also, avoid second hand smoke and if you smoke, kick the habit.
Protect your eyes from injury by wearing plastic eye guards if you’re involved in any activity that poses a risk of flying objects or particles.
Finally, remember that overexposure to the sun is just as bad for your eyes as it is for your skin. Wear sunglasses and stay away from tanning beds
The following treatments are available for diabetic retinopathy patients:
No dietary supplements have been shown to be helpful for diabetic retinopathy.
In addition to your regularly scheduled visits to your eye care professionals, get immediate medical attention if you notice any sudden change in your vision or experience unusual symptoms such as extreme eye pain, burning, itching, redness, or fluid coming out of your eye. Also, get help if you have an eye injury.
Before you visit your doctor, write down a list of questions and concerns. Consider bringing a friend or family member along who can help you make sure you get all the information you need. In addition, writing down the doctor’s answers and recommendation for later reference is a good idea. Also come prepared with your medical history, information about any allergies you have, your family medical history, and a complete list of all medications you take including over-the-counter herbs and supplements.
Here are some questions you might pose when you visit your optometrist:
Here are some questions you might pose if you are referred to an ophthalmologist:
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