Original article courtesy of Vision Aware.

November is Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, which aims to increase awareness of diabetes and diabetic eye disease and encourage people with diabetes to seek treatment for vision problems related to diabetes.

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According to Prevent Blindness America, diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults—and all people with diabetes are at risk for vision loss and blindness from diabetic eye disease. African Americans, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Hispanics, Latinos, and older adults with diabetes are especially at higher risk.

In addition, an emerging body of research in diabetes, vision, and health care indicates that significant differences in the quality and equality of eye care exist throughout the United States, specifically in the African American and Latino communities.

 

Different Types of Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetic Retinopathy

The primary vision problem caused by diabetes is diabetic retinopathy and is the leading cause of new cases of blindness and low vision in adults aged 20-65.

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How someone with Diabetic Retinopathy sees

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

 

Four Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy

According to the National Eye Institute, diabetic retinopathy has four stages:

  1. Mild non-proliferative retinopathy: At this early stage, small areas of balloon-like swelling occur in the retina’s tiny blood vessels.
  2. Moderate non-proliferative retinopathy: As the disease progresses, some blood vessels that nourish the retina become blocked.
  3. Severe non-proliferative retinopathy: Many more blood vessels become blocked, which disrupts the blood supply that nourishes the retina. The damaged retina then signals the body to produce new blood vessels.
  4. Proliferative retinopathy: At this advanced stage, signals sent by the retina trigger the development of new blood vessels that grow (or proliferate) in the retina and the vitreous, which is a transparent gel that fills the interior of the eye. Because these new blood vessels are abnormal, they can rupture and bleed, causing hemorrhages in the retina or vitreous. Scar tissue can develop and can tug at the retina, causing further damage or even retinal detachment.

 

Diabetic retinopathy usually has no early warning signs. It can be detected only through a comprehensive eye examination that looks for early signs of the disease.

 

Diagnosing Diabetic Eye Disease

A vision screening is a relatively short examination that can indicate the presence of a vision problem, such as diabetic retinopathy, or a potential vision problem. A vision screening cannot diagnose diabetic eye disease; instead, it can indicate that you should make an appointment with an ophthalmologist or optometrist for a more comprehensive dilated eye examination.

 

Comprehensive Dilated Eye Examination

A comprehensive dilated eye examination generally lasts between 30 and 60 minutes, and is performed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist.  The examination will consist of:

 

An Eye Health Evaluation

image-1.ashx.jpegA Refraction, or Visual Acuity Testing

A refraction helps determine the sharpness or clarity of both your near (reading) and distance vision.
This includes testing your vision with different lenses (pictured at right) to determine if your vision can be improved or corrected with regular glasses or contact lenses.

Visual Field Testing

Visual field testing helps determiimage-2.ashx.jpegne how much side (or peripheral) vision you have and how much surrounding area you can see. The most common type of visual field test in a comprehensive eye exam is called a confrontation field test, in which the doctor briefly flashes several fingers in each of the four quadrants of your visual field while seated opposite you. In some cases, your doctor may also want to perform a more precise visual field measurement, using a computerized visual field analyzer, such as the Humphrey Field Analyzer (pictured at left).

 

Your Examination Results

The doctor will be able to determine if the visual problems you are experiencing are normal age-related changes or are disease-related, and if additional testing, referral to another doctor or specialist, or treatments are needed.

 

 

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