Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition that can cause vision loss and blindness in people who have diabetes. If you have diabetes, it’s important for you to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. Diabetic retinopathy may not have any symptoms at first — but finding it early can help you take steps to protect your vision.
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss for people with diabetes. But diabetes can also make you more likely to develop several other eye conditions:
Cataracts. Having diabetes makes you 2 to 5 times more likely to develop cataracts. It also makes you more likely to get them at a younger age.
Open-angle glaucoma. Having diabetes nearly doubles your risk of developing a type of glaucoma called open-angle glaucoma.
The early stages of diabetic retinopathy usually don’t have any symptoms.
In later stages of the disease, blood vessels in the retina start to bleed into the vitreous, you may see dark, floating spots or streaks that look like cobwebs. Sometimes, the spots clear up on their own — but it’s important to get treatment right away.
Diabetic retinopathy can lead to other serious eye conditions:
Diabetic macular edema-This happens when blood vessels in the retina leak fluid, causing swelling in the macula, the area where central vision is sharpest. Vision will become blurry because of the extra fluid in your macula.
Neovascular glaucoma. Diabetic retinopathy can cause abnormal blood vessels to grow out of the retina and block fluid from draining out of the eye. This causes a type of glaucoma that is painful and sight threatening if not corrected.
Retinal detachment. Diabetic retinopathy can cause scars to form in the back of your eye. When the scars pull your retina away from the back of your eye, it’s called tractional retinal detachment
Anyone with any kind of diabetes can get diabetic retinopathy — including people with type 1, type 2, and diabetes that can develop during pregnancy.
Your risk increases the longer you have diabetes. You can lower your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by controlling your diabetes.
Dilated Exams with Photographs and OCT of the retina are used to monitor the retina.
Managing your diabetes is the best way to lower your risk of diabetic retinopathy. That means keeping your blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. You can do this by getting regular physical activity, eating healthy, and carefully following your doctor’s instructions for your insulin or other diabetes medicines.
A special test called an A1c test shows your average blood sugar level over a 3-month period. Keeping it a 6.0 or below is best.
Having high blood pressure or high cholesterol along with diabetes increases your risk for diabetic retinopathy. Controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol can help lower your risk for vision loss.
In early stages of diabetic retinopathy, just monitoring how your eyes are doing is all that is indicated. Some patients may need a dilated eye exam as often as every 2 to 4 months.
In later stages treatment is started right away. While it won’t undo any damage to your vision, treatment can stop your vision from getting worse.
Injections. Medicines called anti-VEGF drugs can slow down or reverse diabetic retinopathy. Other medicines, called corticosteroids, can also help.
Laser treatment. To reduce swelling in your retina, eye doctors can use lasers to make the blood vessels shrink and stop leaking or use injections.
Eye surgery. If your retina is bleeding a lot or you have a lot of scars in your eye, your eye doctor may recommend a type of surgery called a vitrectomy.