Common Retinal Problems
- Diabetic Eye Disease
- Macular Degeneration
- Retinal Detachments
- Flashes & Floaters
Diabetic Eye Disease
People with diabetes can have an eye disease called diabetic retinopathy. This is when high blood sugar levels cause damage to blood vessels in the retina. These blood vessels can swell and leak. Or they can close, stopping blood from passing through. Sometimes abnormal new blood vessels grow on the retina. All of these changes can steal your vision.
What Causes Diabetic Retinopathy?
When blood sugar levels are too high for extended periods of time, it can damage capillaries (tiny blood vessels) that supply blood to the retina. Over time, these blood vessels begin to leak fluids and fats, causing edema (swelling). Eventually, these vessels can close off, called ischemia. These problems are signs of non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy.
As diabetic eye problems are left untreated, proliferative diabetic retinopathy can develop. Blocked blood vessels from ischemia can lead to the growth of new abnormal blood vessels on the retina (called neovascularization) which can damage the retina by causing wrinkling or retinal detachment. Neovascularization can even lead to glaucoma damage to the optic nerve that carries images from your eye to your brain.
Maintaining strict control of blood sugar and blood pressure, as well as having regular diabetic eye screenings by your ophthalmologist are keys to preventing diabetic retinopathy and vision loss. Controlling blood sugar and also help to prevent the development of cataracts, as diabetes is a risk factor for cataracts.
What Are Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy?
- Seeing an increase number of floaters
- Having blurry vision
- Having vision that changes sometimes from blurry to clear
- Seeing blank or dark areas in your field of vision
- Having poor night vision
- Noticing colors appear faded or washed out
- Loss of vision
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Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a problem with your retina. It happens when a part of the retina called the macula is damaged. With AMD you lose your central vision. You cannot see fine details, whether you are looking at something close or far. But your peripheral (side) vision will still be normal. For instance, imagine you are looking at a clock with hands. With AMD, you might see the clock’s numbers but not the hands.
AMD is very common. It is a leading cause of vision loss in people 50 years or older. Many older people develop macular degeneration as part of the body’s natural aging process. There are different kinds of macular problems, but the most common is age-related macular degeneration.
Signs and Symptoms of Dry AMD
- Blurry distance and/or reading vision
- Need for increasingly bright light to see up close
- Colors appear less vivid
- Hazy vision
- Difficulty seeing when going from bright light to low light
- Trouble or inability to recognize people’s faces
- Blank or blurry spot in your central vision
Dry macular degeneration can affect one or both eyes. You may not notice vision changes if only one eye is affected, as your unaffected eye will compensate for vision loss in the other eye.
Test Your Vision Using an Amsler Grid
AMD causes your vision to change over time. You may not notice these changes when they happen. But you need to catch vision changes as soon as possible. Treating them early can help slow or stop further loss of sight.
You should use an Amsler grid every day to monitor your vision. One is above for you to use.
Signs and Symptoms of Wet AMD
- Distorted vision-straight lines will appear bent, crooked or irregular
- Dark gray spots or blank spots in your vision
- Loss of central vision
- Size of objects may appear different for each eye
- Colors lose their brightness
Wet macular degeneration symptoms usually appear and get worse fairly quickly.
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Flashes and Floaters
Floaters look like small specks, dots, circles, lines or cobwebs in your field of vision. While they seem to be in front of your eye, they are floating inside. Floaters are tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous that fills your eye. What you see are the shadows these clumps cast on your retina. You usually notice floaters when looking at something plain, like a blank wall or a blue sky. As we age, our vitreous starts to thicken or shrink. Sometimes clumps or strands form in the vitreous. If the vitreous pulls away from the back of the eye, it is called posterior vitreous detachment. Floaters usually happen with posterior vitreous detachment. They are not serious, and they tend to fade or go away over time. Severe floaters can be removed by surgery, but this is seldom necessary. You are more likely to get floaters if you:
- Are nearsighted
- Have had surgery for cataracts
- Have had inflammation inside the eye
What are Flashes? Flashes can look like flashing lights or lightning streaks in your field of vision. Some people compare them to seeing “stars” after being hit on the head. You might see flashes on and off for weeks, or even months. Flashes happen when the vitreous rubs or pulls on your retina. As people age, it is common to see flashes occasionally. Sometimes people have light flashes that look like jagged lines or heat waves. These can appear in one or both eyes and may last up to 20 minutes. This type of flash may be caused by a migraine. A migraine is a spasm of blood vessels in the brain. When you get a headache after these flashes, it is called a “migraine headache.” But sometimes you only see the light flash without having a headache. This is called an “ophthalmic migraine” or “migraine without headache.”
Causes of Floaters and Flashes As we grow older, it is more common to experience floaters and flashes. When people reach middle age, the vitreous gel may start to shrink, forming clumps or strands inside the eye. The vitreous gel pulls away from the back wall of the eye, causing a posterior vitreous detachment. This is a common cause of floaters. The appearance of floaters and flashes may be alarming, especially if they develop very suddenly. Most floaters and flashes are not a problem. However, there are times when they can be signs of a serious condition. Here is when you should call an ophthalmologist right away:
- You notice a lot of new floaters
- You have a lot of flashes
- A gray curtain covers part of your vision
These floaters and flashes could be symptoms of a torn or detached retina. This is when the retina pulls away from the back of your eye. This is a serious condition that needs to be treated.