Diabetes is a very serious illness that, every year, affects hundreds of thousands of people across the globe. Unfortunately, beyond the high blood sugar that is so well known by the general public, as well as those who suffer from diabetes, there are many indirect complications of diabetes that are much less well known, particularly when it comes to the eyes.
Dr. Kenneth Daniels of Hopewell and Lambertville Eye Associates explains, “Among the most troubling side effects of diabetes that can harm the eyes is a condition know as Diabetic Retinopathy. This condition comes about as a result of extended periods of high blood sugar, and comes in two types: nonproliferative and proliferative.”
Nonproliferative Diabetic Retinopathy
This is the earliest stage of retinopathy, which occurs when damaged blood vessels in the retina begin leaking blood and other fluids into the eye, in some cases causing deposits of cholesterol from the blood to leak into the retina. Fortunately, diabetic retinopathy at this stage is rarely sight threatening. All the same, swelling or thickening of the macula may be caused by fluid leaked into the eye, which may prevent the macula from functioning properly. This condition is known as macular edema and is the leading cause of vision loss caused by diabetes.
Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy
This is a more advanced stage. At this point, many blood vessels in the eye have closed themselves off, which will prevent proper blood flow to the eyes. The retina then begins to grow new blood vessels in an attempt to compensate for the lack of blood being carried to the eyes. These new blood vessels, however, are not able to supply the retina with proper blood flow, as they are irregular, and not suited for the task. These new blood vessels also often create scar tissue that may cause the retina to wrinkle or detach. This type of diabetic retinopathy is generally more serious and sight threatening than non-proliferative retinopathy because very serious complications can occur, including traction retinal detachment, in which the wrinkling of the retina causes distortions in vision and may become very severe if large parts of the macula or retina become detached.
Other Complications: Cataracts and Glaucoma
People with diabetes also have a significantly increased risk of developing cataracts. Although cataracts is generally associated with the elderly population, diabetics have a tendency to develop cataracts at much younger ages. On top of this their condition tends to progress much faster. In cataracts that cause significant clouding of the lens, the lens must be removed and replaced by an artificial lens in order to restore vision. With those who suffer from diabetes, this is not without risks. Multiple studies have shown that a person’s retinopathy may become worse, and removing and replacing the lens may cause glaucoma to begin to develop. In reference to another serious condition resulting from diabetes, Dr. Daniels comments, “People with diabetes are at a 40% higher risk for contracting glaucoma, and this risk increases as a person ages. This condition occurs when fluid pressure inside the eye builds up and damages the optical nerve. With glaucoma, damage is done slowly, and a person may not realize they are losing their vision until significant damage has been done.”
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