WHAT IS DIABETIC RETINOPATHY?
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease and a leading cause of blindness in American adults. It is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina.
In some people with diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels may swell and leak fluid. In other people, abnormal new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. A healthy retina is necessary for good vision.
If you have diabetic retinopathy, at first you may not notice changes to your vision. But over time, diabetic retinopathy can get worse and cause vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes.
WHO IS AT RISK FOR DIABETIC RETINOPATHY?
All people with diabetes—both type 1 and type 2—are at risk. That’s why everyone with diabetes should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. The longer someone has diabetes, the more likely he or she will get diabetic retinopathy. Between 40 to 45 percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy. If you have diabetic retinopathy, your doctor can recommend treatment to help prevent its progression.
During pregnancy, diabetic retinopathy may be a problem for women with diabetes. To protect vision, every pregnant woman with diabetes should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam as soon as possible. Your doctor may recommend additional exams during your pregnancy.
SYMPTOMS OF DIABETIC RETINOPATHY?
Often there are no symptoms in the early stages of the disease, nor is there any pain. Don’t wait for symptoms. Be sure to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.
Blurred vision may occur when the macula—the part of the retina that provides sharp central vision—swells from leaking fluid. This condition is called macular edema.
If new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina, they can bleed into the eye and block vision.
SYMPTOMS OF PROLIFERATIVE RETINOPATHY IF BLEEDING
At first, you will see a few specks of blood, or spots, “floating” in your vision. If spots occur, see your eye care professional as soon as possible. You may need treatment before more serious bleeding occurs. Hemorrhages tend to happen more than once, often during sleep.
Sometimes, without treatment, the spots clear, and you will see better. However, bleeding can reoccur and cause severely blurred vision. You need to be examined by your eye care professional at the first sign of blurred vision, before more bleeding occurs.
If left untreated, proliferative retinopathy can cause severe vision loss and even blindness. Also, the earlier you receive treatment, the more likely treatment will be effective.
HOW ARE DIABETIC RETINOPATHY AND MACULAR EDEMA DETECTED?
Diabetic retinopathy and macular edema are detected during a comprehensive eye exam that includes:
Visual acuity test: This eye chart test measures how well you see at various distances.
Dilated eye exam: Drops are placed in your eyes to widen, or dilate, the pupils. This allows the eye care professional to see more of the inside of your eyes to check for signs of the disease. Your eye care professional uses a special magnifying lens to examine your retina and optic nerve for signs of damage and other eye problems. After the exam, your close-up vision may remain blurred for several hours.
Tonometry: An instrument measures the pressure inside the eye. Numbing drops may be applied to your eye for this test.
Your eye care professional checks your retina for early signs of the disease, including:
Leaking blood vessels
Retinal swelling (macular edema)
Pale, fatty deposits on the retina—signs of leaking blood vessels
Damaged nerve tissue
Any changes to the blood vessels
If your eye care professional believes you need treatment for macular edema, he or she may suggest a fluorescein angiogram. In this test, a special dye is injected into your arm. Pictures are taken as the dye passes through the blood vessels in your retina. The test allows your eye care professional to identify any leaking blood vessels and recommend treatment.