Diabetic retinopathy is damage that happens to the eye’s retina that occurs with long-term diabetes. It’s the leading cause of blindness among working age Americans, according to the NIH (National Institute of Health).
Warning Signs & Symptoms
Many people with early diabetic retinopathy have no symptoms. As diabetic retinopathy progresses, symptoms include blurred vision, blindness, floaters or shadows and missing areas of vision. There are two kinds of diabetic retinopathy. The early stage is nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, where blood vessels in the retina begin to leak. If the leakage results in accumulation of fluid in the retina, blurring of the vision can occur.
In the later stage, proliferative diabetic retinopathy, the blood vessels in the retina close, and abnormal blood vessels grow in their place. This can lead to vision loss, as well as detachment of the retina and even glaucoma.
A comprehensive eye exam is the only way to detect diabetic retinopathy in its early stages, before symptoms develop. In monitoring the disease, testing can help your eye doctor monitor the progression of the disease, including fundus photography, fluorescein angiography and optical coherence tomography (OCT).
Treatment does not usually reverse damage that has already occurred, but it will keep the disease from getting worse. Laser surgery shrinks the abnormal blood vessels and reduces macular swelling.
A surgical procedure called vitrectomy is used when there is bleeding into the eye.
Since the early stages of the disease have no symptoms, everyone with diabetes should have annual eye exams. African American, Latinos and Native Americans are at particularly high risk of developing diabetic retinopathy because they are more likely to have diabetes. Closely monitoring blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol is important when preventing diabetic retinopathy.