Diabetic retinopathy is a diabetic eye disease that causes damage to the blood vessels within the retina. The National Eye Institute reports it as the leading cause of blindness in U.S. adults. The condition is progressive, with symptoms beginning subtly and advancing over time. In fact, the earliest stage, known as mild non-proliferative retinopathy, is often symptom-free and identifiable only by a comprehensive dilated eye exam. This exam is especially important for diabetics at least once yearly.
As diabetic retinopathy progresses into moderate and severe non-proliferative retinopathy or proliferative retinopathy, symptoms may include:
- Blurred vision
- “Floaters,” (dark specs and lines that appear to float within the field of vision)
- Difficulty seeing at night
- Dark or missing spots in the central field of vision
- Partial or total blindness
Any new symptoms that arise require immediate attention by an eye care professional. A comprehensive eye exam can measure the pressure within the eye and examine it for retinal swelling, nerve damage and changes in blood vessels. If diabetic retinopathy is diagnosed before it has fully progressed, treatments are available to help preserve vision.
Laser Treatment – Scatter laser treatment and focal laser treatment are surgeries performed in an ophthalmologist’s office to shrink abnormal blood vessels or prevent retinal fluid leakage. A laser is used to carefully “burn” the areas around abnormal blood vessels or the macula that could otherwise cause loss of sight.
Vitrectomy – This procedure is performed in a hospital to remove blood that has leaked into the center of the eye. A vitrectomy can restore sight to the visual field.
Only an eye health professional can diagnose diabetic retinopathy. Individuals with diabetes are at the highest risk for developing the disease, although other risk factors include being pregnant, Hispanic or African American, as well as having high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Annual eye examinations are essential for preventive eye health – especially in these risk groups.