WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. Who can develop diabetic retinopathy?
The condition can develop in anyone who has Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. The longer you have diabetes and the less controlled your blood sugar is, the more likely you are to develop this eye complication.
2. How does it damage your eyes?
Over time, diabetes damages the blood vessels in the retina. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when these tiny blood vessels leak blood and other fluids. This causes the retinal tissue to swell, resulting in cloudy or blurred vision. The condition usually affects both eyes. The longer a person has diabetes, the more likely they will develop diabetic retinopathy. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness.
3. What are the symptoms?
Spots or dark strings floating in your vision. Blurred or fluctuating vision. Impaired color vision. Dark or empty areas in your vision.
4. Why is a DILATED exam so important?
Often the early stages of diabetic retinopathy have no visual symptoms. That is why the American Optometric Association recommends that everyone with diabetes have a comprehensive dilated eye examination once a year. Early detection and treatment can limit the potential for significant vision loss from diabetic retinopathy.
5. How is it treated?Treatment for diabetic retinopathy depends on the stage of the disease. The goal of any treatment is to slow or stop the progression of the disease.
In the early stages of non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, regular monitoring may be the only treatment. Following your doctor's advice for diet and exercise and controlling blood sugar levels can help control the progression of the disease.
Laser treatment (photocoagulation) is used to stop the leakage of blood and fluid into the retina. A laser beam of light can be used to create small burns in areas of the retina with abnormal blood vessels to try to seal the leaks.
If the disease advances, the blood vessels can leak blood and fluid into the retina, leading to macular edema. Laser treatment (photocoagulation) can stop this leakage. A laser beam of light creates small burns in areas of the retina with abnormal blood vessels to try to seal the leaks.
Widespread blood vessel growth in the retina, which occurs in proliferative diabetic retinopathy, can be treated by creating a pattern of scattered laser burns across the retina. This causes abnormal blood vessels to shrink and disappear. With this procedure, some side vision may be lost in order to safeguard central vision.
*See below for more information on injections and photocoagulation*
6. What can you do to protect your vision?You can't always prevent diabetic retinopathy. However, regular eye exams, good control of your blood sugar and blood pressure, and early intervention for vision problems can help prevent severe vision loss.
If you have diabetes, reduce your risk of getting diabetic retinopathy by doing the following:
- Manage your diabetes. Make healthy eating and physical activity part of your daily routine. Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, such as walking, each week. Take oral diabetes medications or insulin as directed.
- Monitor your blood sugar level. You may need to check and record your blood sugar level several times a day — more-frequent measurements may be required if you're ill or under stress. Ask your doctor how often you need to test your blood sugar.
- Ask your doctor about a glycosylated hemoglobin test. The glycosylated hemoglobin test, or hemoglobin A1C test, reflects your average blood sugar level for the two- to three-month period before the test. For most people, the A1C goal is to be under 7 percent.
- Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control. Eating healthy foods, exercising regularly and losing excess weight can help. Sometimes medication is needed, too.
- If you smoke or use other types of tobacco, ask your doctor to help you quit.Smoking increases your risk of various diabetes complications, including diabetic retinopathy.
- Pay attention to vision changes. Contact your eye doctor right away if you experience sudden vision changes or your vision becomes blurry, spotty or hazy.
Remember, diabetes doesn't necessarily lead to vision loss. Taking an active role in diabetes management can go a long way toward preventing complications.