Many people are unaware that they have diabetes until they develop one of its serious conditions, which include vision complications or blindness.
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes and is the leading cause of blindness in the U.S. in people ages 20 to 74 years old. It occurs when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina. The blood vessels weaken and begin to leak fluid. This causes two major problems:
- Diabetic macular edema or retinal swelling of the area that allows us to see fine details clearly.
- Retinal neovascularization or the growth of new abnormal blood vessels. These vessels are very fragile, tend to hemorrhage and don't supply the retina with normal blood flow. These fragile new vessels may bleed into the vitreous, the clear jellylike substance that fills the center of the eye.
These conditions are progressive and usually affect both eyes. Early detection and treatment is important. The only way to prevent or slow the progression of diabetic eye problems is to:
- Have a dilated eye exam at least once a year.
- Discuss all vision changes with your doctor.
- Follow your diabetic diet and exercise plan. Better control of blood sugar slows the onset and progression or diabetic retinopathy.
- Take your medicine and check your sugar.
- Stop smoking - smoking is associated with diabetic retinopathy.