What is Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease and the leading cause of blindness in American adults. Diabetic retinopathy is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. A healthy retina is necessary for good vision.
In diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels grow abnormally, then swell and leak fluid, causing damage.
If you have diabetic retinopathy, you may not notice changes to your vision at first. But over time, retinopathy can get worse and cause severe loss without treatment. Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes.
How Does Diabetes Cause Vision Loss?
Blood vessels damaged from diabetes can cause vision loss in several ways:
- Retinopathy occurs when fragile, abnormal blood vessels grow and leak into the center of the eye, blurring vision. Proliferative retinopathy can develop without symptoms. At this advanced stage, you are at high risk for vision loss. People with proliferative retinopathy can reduce their risk of blindness by 95 percent with timely treatment and appropriate follow-up care.
- Macular edema occurs when fluid leaks into the center of the macula, the area where sharp, central vision occurs. The fluid causes the macula to swell, blurring vision. Macular edema can develop without symptoms at any stage of diabetic retinopathy.
- Both proliferative retinopathy and macular edema can develop without noticeable changes to vison. However, there is a high risk for vision loss if the condition persists.
- A dilated retina exam can determine if you have evidence of macular edema or diabetic retinopathy. Whether or not you have symptoms, early detection and timely treatment is important to prevent vision loss.
How Do You Treat Diabetic Eye Disease?
Although considered one disease, there are many types of diabetic retinopathy.
The two main categories of diabetic retinopathy:
- Nonproliferative: blood vessels leak and/or close
- Proliferative: new blood vessels grow or proliferate
The level of severity and the area of the retina involved determine the type of treatment for diabetic retinopathy.
Injectable medications used in the treatment of Macular Degeneration like Lucentis, Eylea, Avastin, or Kenalog have proved effective in managing the swelling and fluid leakage associated with diabetic eye disease.
Laser photocoagulation is also used to safely and reliably stabilize and improve vision. By focusing the laser onto diseased areas in the retina, swelling can be reduced, abnormal vessels destroyed, and weak vessels sealed.
Are You at Risk for Eye Disease?
All people with diabetes are at risk. The longer someone has lived with diabetes, the more likely they will develop diabetic retinopathy. Forty percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes already have some stage of diabetic retinopathy.
What Can You Do To Protect Vision?
- Stop Smoking to prevent blood vessel damage.
- Eat a balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables.
- Exercise to increase healthy blood flow.
- Maintain appointments with health professionals.
- Monitor blood sugar for fluctuation.
- Schedule a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.