A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. It can be compared to a window that is frosted or “fogged” with steam. There are many misconceptions about cataracts. A cataract is:
- Not a film over the eye
- Not caused by overusing the eyes
- Not spread from one eye to the other
- Not a cause of irreversible blindness
Common Symptoms Include:
- A painless blurring of vision
- Glare, or light sensitivity
- Frequent prescription changes
- Double vision in one eye
- Needing brighter light to read
- Poor night vision
- Fading or yellowing of colors
If you have diabetes mellitus, your body does not use and store sugar properly. High blood-sugar levels can damage blood vessels in the retina, the nerve layer at the back of the eye that senses light and helps to send images to the brain. The damage to retinal vessels is referred to as diabetic retinopathy.
Types of Diabetic Retinopathy
There are 2 types of diabetic retinopathy: nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) and proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR).
NPDR, commonly known as background retinopathy, is an early stage of diabetic retinopathy. In this stage, tiny blood vessels within the retina leak blood or fluid. The leaking fluid causes the retina to swell or to form deposits called exudates.
Many people with diabetes have mild NPDR, which usually does not affect their vision. When vision is affected it is the result of macular edema and/or macular ischemia.
Macular Edema is swelling, or thickening, of the macula, a small area in the center of the retina that allows us to see fine details clearly. The swelling is caused by fluid leaking from retinal blood vessels. It is the most common cause of visual loss in diabetes. Vision loss may be mild to severe, but even in the worst cases, peripheral vision continues to function.
Macular Ischemia occurs when small blood vessels (capillaries) close. Vision blurs because the macula no longer receives sufficient blood supply to work properly.
PDR is present when abnormal new vessels (neovascularization) begin growing on the surface of the retina or optic nerve. The main cause of PDR is widespread closure of retinal blood vessels, preventing adequate blood flow. The retina responds by growing new blood vessels in an attempt to supply blood to the area where the original vessels closed.
Unfortunately, the new, adnormal blood vessels do not resupply the retina with normal blood flow. The new vessels are often accompanied by scar tissue that may cause wrinkling or detachment of the retina.
PDR may cause more severe vision loss than NPDR beause it can affect both central and peripheral vision.
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy causes visual loss in the following ways:
Vitreous Hemorrhage: The fragile new vessels may bleed into the vitreous, a clear, jelly-like substane that fills the center of the eye. If the vitreous hemorrhage is small, a person might see only a few new dark floaters. A very large hemorrhage might block out all vision.
It may take days, months or even years to resorb the blood, depending on the amount of blood present. If the eye does not clear the vitreous blood adequately within a resonable time, vitrectomy surgery may be recommended.
Vitreous hemorrhage alone does not cause permanent vision loss. When the blood clears, visual acuity may return to its former level unless the macula is damaged.
Traction retinal detachment: When PDR is present, scar tissue associated with neovascularization can shrink, wrinkling and pulling the retina from its normal position. Macular wrinkling can cause visual distortion. More severe vision loss can occur if the macula or large areas of the retina are detached.
Neovascular Glaucoma: Occasionally, extensive retinal vessel closure will cause new, abnormal blood vessels to grow on the iris (colored part of the eye) and block the normal flow of fluid out of the eye. Pressure in the eye builds up, resulting in neovascular glaucoma, a severe eye disease that causes damage to the optic nerve.
Floaters & Flashes
You may sometimes see small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision. They are called floaters. You can often see them when looking at a plain background, like a blank wall or blue sky.
Floaters are actually tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous, the clear gel-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye.
While these objects look like they are in front of your eye, they are actually floating inside. What you see are the shadows they cast on the retina, the layer of cells lining the back of the eye that senses light and allows you to see. Floaters can appear as different shapes such as little dots, circles, lines, clouds, or cobwebs.
Glaucoma is a complex eye disease in which circulation of the fluid in the eye is disrupted. It is similar to the blockage of the sink in the kitchen leading to overflow of water. This blockage of the fluid stops the process of re-absorption of the eye fluid leading to high pressure rise within the eye. This high pressure and other factors can ultimately affect the optic nerve. The optic nerve connects the eye and the brain like a telephone cable. Once the optic nerve is damaged, permanent vision loss can occur.