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Diabetic Eye Disease

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Diabetic Eye Diseases

Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye problems that people with diabetes may face as complications of having diabetes. While diabetic eye disease may not be able to be always prevented, finding and treating these diseases early, before they cause vision loss or blindness, is the best way to control diabetic eye disease.

Diabetic Eye Diseases may include:

We are committed to providing you with outstanding treatment. We have Ophthalmologists at the Cincinnati Eye Institute that are specifically trained to recommend and perform treatments that can help prevent progression of the diagnosed diseases.

Diabetic Retinopathy

People who have the diagnosis of diabetes, high blood sugar levels can damage and change blood vessels in the retina (back of the eye that senses light and helps send images to the brain). A healthy retina is extremely important and necessary for good vision. In some people with diabetic retinopathy, the blood vessels in the retina may swell and leak fluid. In others, abnormal new blood vessels may grow on the surface of the retina. These new blood vessels can bleed into the eye and block vision. Diabetic retinopathy will usually affect both eyes.

The chance of getting retinopathy and having a more severe form is greater when:

  • You’ve had diabetes for a long time
  • Your diabetes has been poorly controlled

There are typically no symptoms and no pain in the early stages. As the disease progresses and damage begins to happen, visual symptoms will begin to appear. Common symptoms are:

  • Blurred vision and slow loss of vision
  • Floaters
  • Shadows or missing areas of vision
  • Trouble seeing at night

People with early stage diabetic retinopathy may not need treatment. However, they should be closely followed by ophthalmologist and should control blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol.
If your ophthalmologist notices new blood vessels growing in your retina treatment is usually needed.

To learn more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of diabetic retinopathy, click on the eye animations below.

Macular Edema

Macular edema develops when damaged blood vessels leak fluid into the macula, causing swelling and blurred vision. The macula is the thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye responsible for sharp, straight-ahead vision. Vision loss may be mild to severe, but in many cases, peripheral vision remains. Macular edema is often a complication of diabetic retinopathy, and is the most common form of vision loss for people with diabetes.

With diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels can swell or become blocked. A blockage signals the body to create new blood vessels. The new vessels are often fragile and can leak.

Symptoms may include blurred or wavy central vision and/or colors that appear “washed out” or changed. Macular edema is often painless and may display few symptoms when it first develops.

Laser treatment can be used to reduce swelling of the macula. Tiny laser pulses are applied to areas of leakage. The pulses stabilize vision by sealing off leaking blood vessels. In some cases, vision loss may be improved.

Medication injection therapy is also used. Two drugs —steroids and anti-VEGF agents — have shown promise. Anti-VEGF drugs target a specific chemical in the eye that encourages abnormal blood vessel growth. Injections are given in the doctor’s office. An anesthetic numbs the eye, then a tiny needle is inserted to deliver the medication near the retina.

For people with diabetes, controlling blood sugar and blood pressure is another method of macular edema treatment. It may take several months for macular edema to resolve.

To learn more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of macular edema, click on the eye animations below.

Diabetic Eye Insurance Coverage

Insurance companies classify eye exams into two categories: Vision Exam and Medical Eye Exam. A diabetic eye exam is considered a Medical Eye Exam and will generally be covered by your medical insurance.

Medical Eye Exam (usually covered by medical insurance)

  • Involves a medical condition related to your eyes
  • Is medically necessary for the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases and conditions of the eye
  • Covers pre-existing conditions requiring follow-up care, regular monitoring, and referral to a surgeon or specialist
  • Does not cover routine eye care (eyeglasses, contacts, services related to eyeglasses and contact lenses)
  • Does not require a vision benefits rider on your medical insurance

A Vision Exam (often not covered by medical insurance)

  • Is a “well-eye” exam/routine vision exam to determine the need for corrective lenses and to evaluate overall eye health
  • Includes eyeglasses, contact lenses, and screening for eye diseases and disorders

Working Together with your Doctors for Your Eye Sight

Your diabetic care team needs a full understanding of your eye issues.

Unfortunately, many diabetic patients do not have annual diabetic eye exams, and if they do, do not ask for their results to be sent to their primary care physicians. In order to ensure appropriate eye care, a partnership between you, your primary care physician, and your eye care professional is essential. That’s why at Cincinnati Eye Institute, we ask for your doctor’s contact information on your first visit.

If other professionals are involved in your diabetes care, such as a Cardiologist, Nurse Educator, Registered Dietitian, Endocrinologist, or Podiatrist, we keep them up to date as well.

Sharing Eye Results Can Alert Your Doctor to Other Issues

If problems are found in the retina, other parts of the body may be affected. That’s why regular, annual preventive diabetic eye exams are crucial to your overall health. By staying in close touch with your physician, we can alert them of changes that may be happening in other parts of your body. Finding these changes early can make all the difference to your health and quality of life.

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