In the United States alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that as of 2015, 30.3 million people, or 9.4% of the country’s population, are living with diabetes. An additional 84.1 million have prediabetes, which if left untreated, can lead to type 2 diabetes. Nearly 1 in 4 adults with diabetes don’t even know they have it, and yet diabetes is the leading cause of blindness for adults ages 20-74 in the United States.
Diabetic retinopathy is a disease of the retina found in patients of either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. High blood sugar levels cause damage to blood vessels in the macula. In diabetic retinopathy, swollen, closed off, or leaking vessels cause damage to the macula, or new blood vessels grow on the retina.
There are two stages of diabetic retinopathy:
Often, people with diabetic retinopathy don’t notice symptoms in the early stages. Diabetic retinopathy typically starts with blurry vision, which many may not take as a serious sign. Because the retina is located at the back of the eye, there are no visible symptoms.
Here’s what to look for:
Vision loss from diabetic retinopathy is in many cases irreversible, so it’s better to catch it sooner than later.
The first step in preventing vision loss from diabetic retinopathy is to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and blood pressure. In some cases, vision can even improve in patients with diabetic retinopathy who take steps to control their blood sugar.
However, in some cases, controlling your blood sugar is not enough and you may still be at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy. In these cases, it is important to have yearly eye examinations so that if diabetic retinopathy is present, it can be caught and treated before irreparable damage occurs.
Treatments recommended may include:
Although controlling your blood sugar is important, a study found that healthy glycemic control was not enough to prevent diabetic retinopathy in all cases. The only guarantee to preventing vision loss from diabetic retinopathy is to have yearly comprehensive eye exams. In a dilated eye exam, an eye doctor can see into the back of your eye and look for signs of damaged blood vessels or swelling in the retina, allowing you to take action early. The best way to maintain your healthy vision is through preventative care.
Dr. Nicks is a primary care optometrist at the Marietta Eye Clinic. She also specializes in ocular diseases and ocular surgery co-management. Dr. Nicks received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Alcorn State University and her doctor of optometry from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry. She is a member of both the National Optometric Association and the American Optometric Association. Read more about Dr. Nicks in her full bio.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. It describes itself as a “global community of 32,000 medical doctors who protect sight and empower lives by setting the standards for ophthalmic education and advocating for our patients and the public.” Its website is a great resource to learn more about how to care for your eyes.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) describes itself as the leading authority on quality care and an advocate for our nation’s health, representing more than 44,000 doctors of optometry, optometric professionals, and optometry students.
Annual Eye Exams Can Save Sight for People with Diabetes
What is Diabetic Retinopathy?
New CDC report: More than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes
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