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What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Elevated blood sugar levels cause changes in your blood vessels, including the ones in your eyes. The blood vessels in the retina of the eye can become damaged in people with diabetes, causing diabetic retinopathy.

Symptoms of this eye disease include:

  • blurry vision
  • difficulty seeing at night
  • seeing floaters
  • seeing shadows
  • having the sense that something is in your eye

Diabetes Facts from the Center for Disease Control

  1. Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults aged 20–74 years.
  2. In 2005–2008, 4.2 million (28.5%) people with diabetes aged 40 years or older had diabetic retinopathy
  3. And of these people, 655,000 (4.4% of those with diabetes) had advanced diabetic retinopathy that could lead to severe vision loss.
  4. Detecting and treating diabetic eye disease with laser therapy can reduce the development of severe vision loss by an estimated 50% to 60%.
  5. About 65% of adults with diabetes and poor vision can be helped by appropriate eyeglasses.

Diabetic Retinopathy Stages

Located in the back of your eye, the retina sends signals it receives to the brain where they get interpreted as images or pictures. This eye disease presents as blood vessels in the retina swell and leak fluid, close off completely or new blood vessels grow on the retina’s surface.

There are 4 stages of DR, from mild to advanced:

  1. Mild nonproliferative retinopathy
  2. Moderate nonproliferative retinopathy
  3. Severe nonproliferative retinopathy
  4. Proliferative retinopathy

Keep Your Blood Sugar Under Control

Diabetic retinopathy, and other damage to the retina layer of the eye, can eventually lead to blindness. In fact, DR is a leading cause of blindness in people 25-74 years old in the United States.

If your diabetes is not under control, high blood sugar levels can lead to vision loss in three different ways:

  1. Macular edema – the macula is the small part of the retina responsible for our central vision. Macular edema refers to leaking of the blood vessels in the retina which leads to swelling of the macular area of the eye. This is a common cause of vision loss in the non-proliferative and proliferative forms of DR.

  1. Proliferation of blood vessels – formation of new blood vessels in the retina, present in the fourth and most advance stage of the disease i.e. proliferative retinopathy. When these new blood vessels, with fragile walls break, blood leaks into the eye causing serious vision impairment.

  1. Retinal detachment – people with the proliferative form of DR are susceptible to tractional retinal detachment, a type that happens when strands of scar tissue causes the retina to peel away from the under layer of supporting tissue.

Annual Eye Exams Detect Vision Problems

Vision problems in people with diabetes includes glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy affects people with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. The disease affects up to 80% of people who’ve had diabetes for 10 or more years.

The American Optometric Association, AOA, recommends annual dilated eye exams to anyone with diabetes.  Besides keeping your blood sugar in check, diabetics need to keep an eye on their blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure can make a diabetic more likely to develop this eye disease.

Treatment Options

Preliminary studies are being conducted to test the effectiveness of pine bark extract as a way of treating diabetic eye conditions. If you are diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, you need to schedule an appointment with an eye care professional, such as an ophthalmologist, to discuss your treatment options.

Different treatments are used depending on what stage of DR you have. Injections and laser surgery are typically reserved for anyone with the most advanced or proliferative form of diabetic retinopathy.

Eye Exams Detect Diabetic Retinopathy

A routine eye examination will detect diabetic retinopathy and other eye problems. The eye doctor conducts a variety of tests during the exam including pupil dilation, visual acuity test and a slit lamp screening.

Visit a Stanton Optical store near you for a VISION CHECK from a licensed Doctor of Optometry. Stanton Optical has independent eye care doctors, or eye doctors working for T. Campen, at each of our locations.

Diabetic Retinopathy Resources

  1. Diabetes and Eye Health Concerns
  2. Diabetic Retinopathy
  3. Diabetic Retinopathy Overview
  4. Facts About Diabetic Retinopathy
  5. What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

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