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As we recognize Diabetic Eye Disease Month, it’s important to know what diabetic eye disease is and how to take steps to prevent it.

According to the National Eye Institute, diabetic eye disease is a group of eye problems people with diabetes may get, which include the following:

  • Diabetic retinopathy – Causes harm to the blood vessels in the retina. The retina is the layer of tissue in the back of the eye that is sensitive to light.
  • Cataract – Causes the eye lens to get cloudy.
  • Glaucoma – Causes damage to the optic nerve that can lead to vision loss.

All of these problems can lead to vision loss or blindness. Anyone with diabetes can get one of these diseases. The longer a person has diabetes, the higher the risk of developing diabetic eye disease.

Diabetic retinopathy tends to be a major cause of blindness for people with diabetes. This occurs when blood vessels in the retina become weak and leak fluid. It can also occur when new blood vessels form along the surface of the retina. New blood vessels forming on the surface can bleed into the eye and prevent vision.

Vegetables and eye healthIn the initial stages of diabetic retinopathy, there may be no symptoms or pain. If some blood vessels emit fluid or bleed, vision could start to blur. An eye care professional can determine if someone has the disease by conducting a comprehensive dilated eye exam.

The disease is often treated through laser eye surgery, which can close or shrink the new abnormal blood vessels that can leak blood into the eye and cause vision loss. It can also slow or halt the fluid leakage from retina vessels. New treatments include injections of drugs into the eye to prevent leakage, which often leads to improved vision.

Other eye diseases that could affect people with diabetes include glaucoma and the formation of cataracts. Cataracts can be treated with surgery, while glaucoma is treatable with both medicine and surgery.

To prevent eye disease, people with diabetes should keep blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol under control. They should also have regular comprehensive dilated eye exams at least once a year. Women who are pregnant with diabetes should see their eye care professional regularly throughout their pregnancy.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is also important. A person with diabetes should follow these steps:

  • Take medications as prescribed by your doctor
  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight
  • Add physical activity to your day
  • Control your ABCs: A1C, blood pressure and cholesterol levels

Jean Kalscheur, Council Education and Vision Services Director, provides her insight into prevention.

“The most important thing is to get an annual dilated eye exam for persons with diabetes, as that is the only way your eye doctor knows if something is happening,” Kalscheur said. “The earlier the treatment, the better.”

For more information, visit: http://nei.nih.gov/diabetes