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Photo of diabetic retinopathyThere are usually no symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, so your vision may not be affected until the disease becomes severe. More than a third of patients diagnosed with diabetes do not receive the recommended vision care, and as a result, may be at risk for blindness.

If you are a diabetic it is crucial to have a comprehensive eye examination every year. Diabetic patients are more prone to serious eye problems such as glaucoma and cataracts, making it very important to have a regular comprehensive diabetic eye exam. 

A diabetic eye examination will include a test to measure your eye pressure, a retinal exam to view the back of your eye, and an exam of the front of your eye.


Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic Retinopathy is the most common eye condition associated with diabetes. If you have diabetes, your body can’t regulate blood sugar levels correctly, and high blood sugar levels can cause damage to the blood vessels in your body, especially in the retina. The retina is the part of the eye that senses light and helps send images to the brain. Damage to the retina, known as Diabetic Retinopathy, can ultimately cause vision loss.

Patients who are able to control their diabetes reduce their chance of diabetic retinopathy. Laser treatment is used to seal blood vessels in minor cases, and in more severe cases the vitreous gel may have to be surgically removed.

You can significantly reduce your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by:

  • Keeping blood sugar under control
  • Monitoring blood pressure to keep it under control, or seek appropriate care
  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Visiting an eye doctor for a yearly dilated eye exam

It is important to pay close attention to changes in your vision. If your vision becomes blurred, spotty, or hazy, it is important to contact your eye doctor for a diabetic eye exam.

Floaters and Flashes

Floaters can appear in your vision as a variety of different shapes. They are often noticed when looking at a plain background, like a wall, or the sky. Floaters are caused by the clumping of the vitreous gel, which makes shadows on the retina, resulting in floaters in your vision.

A tear in the retina can cause floaters, a very serious problem. If a retinal tear is not treated then the retina may become detached from the back of the eye, and the only treatment for a detached retina is surgery. Other floaters are harmless and will disappear over time without the need for treatment. If you are familiar with floaters because you have suffered from them for years, you should still see your eye doctor if new ones suddenly develop.

Your eye doctor may dilate your pupils in order to conduct a full exam; this painless exam will allow your eye doctor to examine all the areas of your eye including the retinal and vitreous gel.

Floaters are more common when people reach middle age. The vitreous gel becomes thicker or shrinks as we age, and this will form strands or clumps within the eye. The vitreous gel can begin to pull away from the back of the eye causing a posterior vitreous detachment, a common cause of floaters.

Symptoms of Flashes

Flashes appear as flashing lights or lightening streaks. They can appear on and off, but will become more common as the eye ages. Some people who experience the flashes of light see jagged lines in both eyes at once, these flashes last from 10-20 minutes and are usually caused by a spasm of blood vessels in the brain, which is a migraine.

As we grow older, it is more common to experience flashes. They can appear off and on for several weeks or months. If you notice the sudden appearance of light flashes, you should contact your eye doctor immediately in case the retina has been torn.

Retinal Detachment

Photo of retinal detachmentRetinal DetachmentRetinal detachment is a condition involving the retina separating from the supporting structures in the back of the eye. The most common cause of retinal detachment is small holes that are formed on the retina. The eye fluid can enter the holes and start to peel the retina off the back of the eye. The holes can form as a result of trauma, degeneration of the retina, or after a surgery on the eye.

Symptoms

The symptoms of retinal detachment may include the sudden development of floaters and flashes. Bleeding from the retinal tear can cause the floaters, and pull from the vitreous jelly, causing the flashes. If the retina starts to detach itself, a patient may see a blurry image in the edge of their vision, and as the detachment progresses, the blurriness may enter the center. If the retina fully detaches, the macula will also detach and vision will become increasingly worse. Patients who experience these symptoms should see an eye doctor immediately.

Treatment Options

Retinal Detachment

There are certain treatment options available for retinal detachment. If the retina has only experienced small tears, then treatment with a laser can usually fix the tear. Close monitoring will follow this treatment. If the retina becomes fully detached a silicone band, called a scleral buckle, may be placed behind the eyelids to help reattach the retina. A vitrectomy, a surgical procedure where the vitreous gel is removed, may be necessary to help repair the retina. If the retinal detachment involves only the peripheral retina, then surgical repair usually helps maintain good vision. There is a possibility that some vision may still be lost even after surgical reattachment of the retina, especially if the detachment has progressed enough to involve the macula, which is the center of vision.