If you have diabetes, your body does not use and store sugar properly. This can lead to damage and weakening of the blood vessels that supply nourishment to the retina, the light-sensitive lining in the back of the eye where vision is focused. This damage to the retinal vessels is referred to as diabetic retinopathy and is the leading cause of blindness in patients 20 to 64 years of age. In addition, patients with diabetes are at increased risk to develop other eye diseases that can cause vision loss, such as glaucoma and cataracts.

In its early stages, diabetic retinopathy is painless and often produces no symptoms. As the disease progresses, the weakened blood vessels may leak and cause the retina to swell. If swelling occurs in the macula (the central portion of the retina), gradual blurring of vision may occur. If the abnormal vessels bleed, vision may become spotty, hazy, or disappear completely. This damage is irreversible.

The best treatment for diabetic retinopathy is prevention. Early detection and management is important to prevent development of the more sight damaging stages of the disease. Keeping your blood sugar on an even level and frequent dilated eye exams (at least yearly) can help. With careful monitoring, treatment of diabetic retinopathy can be started before your sight is affected. Although damage caused by diabetic retinopathy cannot be corrected, patients diagnosed with the condition can be treated to slow its progression and prevent further vision loss. Treatment modalities include laser and surgical procedures.

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Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a disorder that affects a tiny area in the center of the retina known as the macula. It is estimated that over 13 million Americans over the age of 40 show early signs of AMD, and it is the leading cause of blindness and vision impairment in people over age 60.

AMD occurs in a dry form and a wet form. 90% of individuals diagnosed with AMD have the dry form. The hallmark of the dry form is small yellowish lesions (known as drusen) or pigment changes in the macula. Although only 10% of all people with AMD have the wet form, it accounts for 90% of all blindness associated with the disease. Blood vessels behind the retina grow toward the macula. These vessels are very fragile and often leak under the macula, rapidly causing damage that leads to loss of central vision.

The most common symptoms of dry AMD are slightly blurred vision. As the disease progresses, a blurred spot forming in the center of the vision gradually becomes larger and darker, reducing central vision. Straight lines that appear wavy are symptoms of wet AMD, often followed by rapid loss of central vision.

Early recognition plays a significant role in success of management of macular degeneration. Family history, nutritional habits, and smoking may play a significant role in the risk of macular degeneration. Nutritional support, in the form of vitamin supplements may decrease the progression of AMD. In addition, stopping smoking plays a meaningful role in stabilizing vision. Surgical and laser treatments may help wet AMD.

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