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Diabetic Retinopathy

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy, also known as diabetic eye disease, is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes. The condition affects the retina, a small patch of tissue at the back of the eye. The retina turns rays of light into signals for the brain, which allows us to see. A healthy retina is essential to good vision — any amount of retinal damage can cause irreversible vision loss.

There are four stages of diabetic retinopathy:

Diabetic Retinopathy Chart

What causes diabetic retinopathy?

High blood sugar levels cause damage to the tiny blood vessels in the retina of diabetic patients. Over time, the blood vessels start to swell and leak blood into the eye, which causes blind spots and blurry vision. The blood vessels can also close completely, which blocks the passage of blood to parts of the eye.

What are the symptoms?

Diabetic retinopathy is not detectable in its early stages, as there are typically no symptoms. In most cases, the eye disease will progress unnoticed by the patient until they experience blurry vision or “floaters,” which appear as dark spots in your line of sight. A comprehensive eye exam is required in order to examine the blood vessels of the retina and diagnose diabetic retinopathy. If vision has already been affected by the leakage of fluid in the retina, prompt treatment is required in order to prevent permanent vision loss.

Can you prevent diabetic retinopathy?

Anyone with type 1 or type 2 diabetes is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. 45 percent of diabetic Americans experience some stage of diabetic retinopathy, while only half of those people are aware they have the disease.

If you have diabetes, the best way to reduce your risk of diabetic retinopathy is to control your blood sugar levels, take medications as prescribed, stay active, and eat healthy. People with diabetes should also visit an eye doctor for a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. Early detection and treatment of diabetic retinopathy can help protect against long-term eye problems and vision loss.

Diabetic Retinopathy Treatment Options

In most cases, vision loss due to diabetic retinopathy is irreversible. The swelling of blood vessels in the retina can, however, be treated a number of different ways. Treatment for diabetic macular edema and PDR includes: