5 Things You Need to Know About Diabetic Retinopathy
According to the National Eye Institute, in 2010, 7.69 million people in the US were estimated to have diabetic retinopathy, which is one of the most common causes of blindness in American adults. That number is expected to double by 2050, reaching 14.6 million. Although advanced diabetic retinopathy can lead to permanent blindness, many patients are able to retain their vision with the right knowledge and care. November is Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, making it a great time to learn more about diabetic retinopathy and how to keep it from interfering with your vision. Here are the top five things everyone should know about diabetic retinopathy.
1. Diabetic retinopathy is caused by damaged blood vessels.
Diabetes is characterized by elevated levels of glucose (i.e., sugar) in the blood for prolonged periods of time. Too much sugar in the blood damages blood vessels by reducing tissue elasticity and causing them to narrow. Diabetic retinopathy is when this damage happens in the retinal vascular system.
The retina’s purpose is to detect light and send information to the brain, which results in our sense of sight. Whether you’re working, reading, or simply daydreaming, your retina is hard at work whenever your eyes are open. To keep your vision functioning properly, the retina needs a steady supply of blood, nutrients, and oxygen, which are delivered to it through the retinal vascular system. However, when diabetic retinopathy causes damage to the retinal blood vessels, it can lead to bleeding, leakage, and swelling in the retina, which can disrupt the retina’s ability to function correctly.
2. Many patients with diabetic retinopathy don’t experience symptoms at first.
At the onset and earlier stages of diabetic retinopathy, damage to the blood vessels is fairly minimal, causing little to no noticeable symptoms for many patients. Often, the first signs of diabetic retinopathy can only be discovered through a comprehensive eye exam. As the disease progresses, patients can experience visual disruptions, such as blurred vision, loss of central vision, or floaters (dark or translucent spots, strings, shapes, and/or cobwebs) in their field of vision.
3. Advanced diabetic retinopathy can lead to permanent vision loss.
In advanced cases of diabetic retinopathy, the eye tries to make up for the decreased blood and oxygen by growing new blood vessels. While this might sound helpful, these new blood vessels are atypical and very fragile, causing increased bleeding in the retina and vitreous, retinal swelling (i.e., diabetic macular edema), and scar tissue. As the damage becomes more aggressive, the more your vision becomes compromised. In the most severe cases, excessive fluid and scar tissue can cause a tractional retinal detachment, which is a medical emergency that can lead to permanent vision loss.
4. Anyone with diabetes can develop diabetic retinopathy.
Anyone with diabetes, whether it is type 1 or type 2, is at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy. The longer you have had diabetes, the greater the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy becomes. Women who have diabetes and become pregnant, as well as those who develop diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes), are also at high risk for diabetic retinopathy.
5. There’s no cure for diabetic retinopathy, but permanent vision loss is often preventable.
The silver lining of diabetic retinopathy is that permanent vision loss and blindness are preventable in the vast majority of cases. By keeping up with regular visits to a diabetic eye specialist, managing diabetes with medication, engaging in daily physical activity, and maintaining a healthy diet, many people with diabetic retinopathy are able to preserve their vision for the rest of their lives.
Schedule a Diabetic Eye Exam Today
If you have or are at risk for developing diabetes, consider scheduling an appointment with a diabetic eye specialist as soon as possible. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the better chance you have of preventing vision loss. To get diagnostic care and treatment for diabetic retinopathy in South Florida, contact Retina Group of Florida today.