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Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetes mellitus is the most common cause of blindness in people younger than 65 years in the United States. Uncontrolled diabetes can produce temporary blurring of one’s vision, or it can lead to permanently impaired or total loss of vision. This article will serve as an introduction to what diabetes mellitus is and how it can affect one’s vision.

Diabetes mellitus is a disease where one’s blood sugar level is above normal limits. Some subjective symptoms of diabetes are increased thirst, frequent urination, and/or increased appetite. Likewise, some people with more advanced diabetes may experience tingling in the hands or feet, unexplained weight changes, or visual blurring. Treatment for diabetes may include diet modification, insulin, oral medications, or a combination of all three. The management of one’s diabetes is usually carried out by an internist or endocrinologist. An important blood test to obtain is the Hemoglobin A1C (A-One-C), which gives both the internist and the ophthalmologist an idea of the blood sugar levels over the last 90 days. Without adequate control, diabetes can run rampant through all systems of the body, leading to heart disease, strokes, kidney failure, devastating infections, and circulatory abnormalities in the hands and feet.

Diabetes can lead to several problems within the eye. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to a temporary swelling of the lens inside the eye, leading to reversible changes in one’s glasses prescription. Reestablishing control of the blood sugar usually will correct the lens swelling within a few weeks. Diabetes also increases the risk of developing cataracts and glaucoma, diseases that can both lead to severe visual loss. Most importantly, diabetes can affect the vessels of the retina (the back of the eye), leading to Diabetic Retinopathy.

Diabetic Retinopathy is the complication from diabetes that can lead to severe, irreversible visual loss. The vessels in the retina become weakened over time by the abnormally high levels of blood sugar. The vessels eventually begin to leak fluid and cause areas of swelling and distortion of the retina. If this swelling occurs in the macula (the center of the retina responsible for central vision), irreversible visual distortion and/or loss can occur; this condition is called Diabetic Macular Edema. In this situation, the treatment would be for an ophthalmologist to apply laser treatments to the retina to preserve the remaining vision. Although there is a perception that the laser application causes visual loss, in actuality the laser application is retarding the actual visual loss from the diabetic macular edema.

In addition, the abnormally high blood sugar can cause ‘clogging” of the small vessels in the retina, leading to widespread oxygen starvation inside the eye. This may lead to Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy, where the eye tries to overcome the lack of oxygen by creating new blood vessels. Unfortunately, these new blood vessels are not adequate and actually cause more problems, for they lead to bleeding within the eye and scarring. At that point, an intraocular surgical procedure (vitrectomy) may be needed to preserve vision, but the final visual outcome may be extremely poor and unsalvageable.

Needless to say, people who have diabetes should definitely seek an ophthalmologist for an complete dilated eye examination, especially if there are any recent visual disturbances. The devastating consequences of uncontrolled diabetes should serve as a warning to all patients managing this ailment. Those diabetics who have never seen an ophthalmologist for a complete dilated exam should do so as soon as possible and be seen at least yearly. Diabetics who are currently under the care of an ophthalmologist should be proactive in maintaining regular visits at the ophthalmologist’s discretion. Likewise, pregnancy can adversely affect diabetes control, so every pregnant diabetic should have a dilated eye exam as soon as possible.


Prinze Mack has an office in West Long Branch, NJ. Prinze Mack sees patients from West Long Branch, Freehold, Brick, Toms River, Tinton Falls, Marlboro, Manalapan, Point Pleasant, Long Branch, Eatontown Ophthalmology. Prinze Mack Freehold Prinze Mack Eye Doctor. Dr Prinze Mack, Board Certified in Ophthalmology. Prinze Mack Eye surgery cataracts LASIK. Dr Prinze Mack has a very friendly office in West Long Branch, NJ. Prinze Mack Mack Eye Center at www.mackeye.com. Prinze Mack www.mackeye.com.