DR is the leading cause of blindness due to injury or eye disease in Americans under the age of 65. Those with type I or II diabetes are susceptible to DR.

Symptoms

Diabetes patients should pay particular attention to fluctuating vision, floaters and spots in vision, development of a scotomoa (blind spot) or shadows in visual field, blurry and/or distorted vision, corneal abnormalities (ie: slow healing corneal abrasions), double vision, eye pain, near vision issues (not related to presbyopia) or cataracts, as all are symptoms of DR. In regular eye exams, doctors will screen diabetes patients for signs of DR and other diabetes-related eye diseases, such as swelling, deposits or leakage from blood vessels in the retina. Another symptom of DR is involuntary eye movement and double vision due to nerve damage affecting the ocular muscles.

Causes

Both types of Diabetes (I and II) can cause DR. Diabetes mellitus (DM) causes changes in the body’s sugar (glucose) that is converted into energy and used to fuel various bodily functions. When diabetes is uncontrolled, patients will have an extremely high level of blood sugar pooled in their blood vessels (hyperglycemia), which will affect blood flow to different organs, including the eyes. Patients diagnosed with type I diabetes are considered insulin-dependent, as they require injections and/or medication to supply insulin to their bodies. When you are unable to produce enough of your own insulin, your blood sugar is too high, and can cause DR. Patients diagnosed with type II diabetes are not insulin-dependent, as their bodies can produce enough insulin, but they are unable to use it as needed. In order to compensate, their bodies create even more insulin, resulting in abnormal increases in body sugar levels. In both cases, the spikes in blood sugar can clog or damage blood cells in the retina, which contains the light-sensitive cells needed to see.

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Treatment

Laser treatment of DR targets damaged eye tissue, either through “spot welding” and sealing the leakage or by eliminating abnormal blood vessels. Other lasers target the peripheral sections of the retina, destroying it in order to keep vision focused in the central part.