diabetic retinopathy

The term diabetes is used to describe large amounts of sugar floating in your bloodstream.  This sugar weakens the blood vessels throughout your body and makes them “leaky.”  This can cause health problems with major organs, including the eyes. For example, diabetics can develop kidney problems and difficulty with healing. In the eye, diabetic vessel leakage in the retina can affect the vision. The retina is the light-sensing structure inside the eye and can be compared to the film inside a camera.  Just like camera film, the retina needs to be perfectly smooth and flat to take a good picture.  Blood vessel leakage can make the retina swollen and lumpy. If this swelling occurs near the central visual area (i.e., macular edema) this can have severe visual consequences. Treatment in this case involves focal laser therapy (FLT laser) with a laser to seal off leaky spots.  Diabetic leakage can be so bad that the eye fills with blood.  This is called a vitreous hemorrhage and may require surgery to remove the blood if it doesn’t clear on its own.  Finally, long-term diabetic retinopathy can starve the retina of oxygen and can lead to the formation of abnormal retinal blood vessels.  This process is called neovascularization and is the most severe stage of diabetic eye disease.  These abnormal vessels can bleed, cause traction retinal detachments, and even clog the “drain” inside the eye and create an intractable acute glaucoma.  Most of these diabetic problems can be avoided by maintaining good glycemic control and by getting regular dilated eye exams.  It’s better to detect and treat diabetic retinopathy early before these problems get out of control.

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Dr. Timothy Root is a practicing ophthalmologist and cataract surgeon in Daytona Beach, Florida. His books, video lectures, and training resources can be found at:

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