Diabetic retinopathy: causes, prevention and treatment

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in American adults and the most common ocular disease associated with diabetes, according to the National Eye Institute.

The frightening thing about diabetic retinopathy is that there aren't always symptoms or noticeable changes in vision. However, the condition can get progressively worse over time and cause irreversible damage to one or both eyes.

Causes

Changes in blood sugar, blood pressure and blood cholesterol due to diabetes can cause retinopathy.

Fragile blood vessels can develop leaks, which can blur vision and cause swelling in the eye. With the progression of the disease, blood vessels that provide nourishment to the retina are blocked.

The blurred vision and swelling can eventually causes total blindness, if left untreated.

Both individuals with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are at risk for diabetic retinopathy.

Prevention

The best way to prevent diabetic-related eye disease is to have a vision exam at least once a year. People with poor vision or a history of eye problems may need to have checkups more frequently.

Your eye doctor will be able to tell if you have any type of damage in the eyes and if you are in the beginning states of diabetic retinopathy.

If you already have the condition, you may need more frequent eyes exams to prevent the retinopathy from getting worse.

Treatment

According to the National Eye Institute, controlling blood sugar levels is one of the best ways to slow the onset and progression of diabetic retinopathy. This helps prevent nerve damage in general and can reduce the need for laser surgery to save your eyesight later on.

Other research suggests that maintaining healthy levels of blood pressure and cholesterol can reduce your risk of vision problems.

If these changes don't help, diabetic retinopathy is often treated with laser surgery, which helps to slow the leakage of fluid into the eyes and reduces swelling in the retina.

Drugs like Lucentis, Avastin or Eylea may also help to promote eye health and reduce ocular fluid leakage.

Source: National Eye Institute

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