Diabetes and Loss of Vision

Diabetic eye disease is comprised of a number of eye conditions one of which is diabetic retinopathy.

All forms of diabetic eye disease have the potential to cause vision loss or blindness, but diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss among diabetics and often goes undetected until vision loss occurs.

If you are a diabetic who has chronically high or uncontrolled blood sugar, you are at risk of damaging the tiny blood vessels in the retina which can lead to diabetic retinopathy.  The disease causes blood vessels in the retina to leak fluid or bleed causing a distortion in vision.

The retina detects light and converts it to signals sent through the optic nerve to the brain.  Diabetic retinopathy can cause blood vessels in the retina to leak fluid or bleed, causing a distortion in vision.

Diabetic retinopathy may progress through four stages:

  1. Mild non-proliferative retinopathy. Small areas of balloon-like swelling in the retina’s tiny blood vessels, called micro-aneurysms, occur at this earliest stage of the disease. These micro-aneurysms may leak fluid into the retina.
  2. Moderate non-proliferative retinopathy. As the disease progresses, blood vessels that nourish the retina may swell and distort. They may also lose their ability to transport blood.
  3. Severe non-proliferative retinopathy. Many more blood vessels are blocked, depriving blood supply to areas of the retina. These areas secrete growth factors that signal the retina to grow new blood vessels.
  4. Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR). At this advanced stage, growth factors secreted by the retina trigger the proliferation of new blood vessels, which grow along the inside surface of the retina and into the vitreous gel, the fluid that fills the eye. The new blood vessels are fragile, which makes them more likely to leak and bleed. Accompanying scar tissue can contract and cause retinal detachment—the pulling away of the retina from underlying tissue, like wallpaper peeling away from a wall. Retinal detachment can lead to permanent vision loss.

Some ways to delay diabetic retinopathy and vision loss are:

  • Controlling your diabetes – take medications as prescribed, maintaining a recommended level of physical activity and a healthy diet.
  • Eye Exam – because diabetic retinopathy often goes unnoticed people with diabetes should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.

Vision lost to diabetic retinopathy is sometimes irreversible. However, early detection and treatment can reduce the risk of blindness by 95 percent.  To make an appointment at the Jamaica Hospital Medical Center’s Department of Ophthalmology call, 718-206-5900.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.