Eye Complications of Diabetes
Diabetics are at a higher risk of developing eye problems than non-diabetics. They also have a higher risk of blindness although many diabetics only experience mild eye problems. Eye complications are among those to be monitored regularly for diabetics. Regular check-up and early detection will keep eye problems minor along with tight blood glucose monitoring and control.
How does diabetes affect the eyes? The eye is a ball covered by an outer membrane called the cornea. The cornea is a clear, curved and tough membrane. Light passes through the cornea, then the anterior chamber after which it passes through the lens for more focusing. It then passes through the vitreous at the center of the eye and hits the retina at the back of the eye. The retina is like the film in a camera which records the images and converts them into signals for the brain to read. A part of the retina called the macula is used for fine-focusing. It is nourished by blood vessels called capillaries located behind the retina. When these blood vessels are blocked or subjected to pressure, eye problems occur. In other words, eye complications in diabetes are actually a result of damage to the capillaries supplying blood to the macula and retina.
The common eye complications resulting from diabetes are glaucoma, cataracts and retinopathy. Glaucoma occurs in 40% of diabetics. The risk for glaucoma increases with age and the length of diabetic condition. Glaucoma results from pressure build-up in the blood vessels nourishing the retina and optic nerve. Over time, the pressure leads to damage of the nerve and the retina and eventually loss of vision.
Cataracts occur in 60% of diabetics. Diabetics tend to develop cataracts at a younger age compared to non-diabetics. A cataract is when the clear lens of the eyes becomes cloudy blocking light. The cause is the same with glaucoma. In severe cases, the cataract interferes with vision requiring lens removal and transplant.
Retinopathy literally means death of the retina and is the general term for disorders to the retina as a result of diabetes. Retinopathy is either nonproliferative or proliferative. Nonproliferative retinopathy occurs in stages and is a result of blocked capillaries. It can lead to eye fluid leakage in the macula, causing it to swell and form an edema resulting to blocked or lost vision. Proliferative retinopathy occurs when the blockage is so severe that the capillaries closed off. It can result to growth of new blood vessels that are weak and leak eye fluids causing vitreous hemorrhage or displacement of the retina.
The first line of treatment is to prevent eye complications. This requires strict blood glucose monitoring and control. It is not enough that medication like insulin therapy is taken for diabetes; it has to effective in maintaining blood glucose at the desired level. Another important thing is for eye complications to be detected early. When the sight is still normal; treatments like focal photocoagulation and vitrectomy can still give their desired results. Photocoagulation is known in lay man’s terms as laser surgery while vitrectomy is the removal of scar tissues by surgery. Both operations require for eye complications to be in their earlier stages so as to obtain optimal results.