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Diabetes and the Eye

Diabetic eye disease is a leading cause of vision loss in the United States. High blood sugar levels may also increase the risk of retinal disease, cataract formation and glaucoma. A yearly dilated eye exam for patients with diabetes is the best way to prevent vision loss from diabetic eye disease.

In diabetes mellitus the body does not process and store sugar in the blood properly. High blood sugar levels can cause abnormalities in the small blood vessels in the retina, the nerve layer at the back of the eye that senses light. Normally, the blood vessels in the retina do not leak. In diabetic eye disease, the retinal blood vessels develop leaks, allowing fluid or blood to accumulate in the retina. Bleeding or leaking of fluid may cause retinal swelling, keeping the retina from working properly. Longstanding diabetes may also cause blockage of retinal blood vessels. Since the retina depends on blood vessels for nutrition, this blockage keeps the retina from functioning properly. The impaired retina sends out chemical signals to promote new blood vessel growth. These fragile new blood vessels bleed easily and cause scarring. Floaters, vision loss and retinal detachment may result.

People with retinal swelling describe blurry vision or a loss of vision that may range from barely noticeable to severe. Patients with abnormal new vessels may notice a shower of black specks, a sudden blackout or just haziness of the vision.

Swelling in the retina can be treated using a laser or steroid injections in or around the eye. Laser treatment is used to decrease the growth of abnormal new vessels.