Diabetic retinopathy affects roughly 7.7 million American adults. All people with diabetes, whether type 1 or type 2, are at risk for this potentially blinding complication of diabetes.
Retinopathy occurs when diabetes damages tiny blood vessels in the eye’s retina, a light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Most people do not immediately notice changes in their vision. Some people, however, develop blurry vision as a result of macular edema, a condition in which damaged blood vessels leak fluid onto the macula, causing it to swell.
As diabetic retinopathy progresses, new blood vessels can grow where they should not, along the retina and in the gel-like vitreous that fills the interior of the eye. These blood vessels are fragile and can break and bleed or hemorrhage into the eye, blurring vision and damaging or destroying the retina.
Treatments such as injectable medicines, laser surgery, and vitrectomy, an operation in which part of the vitreous is removed and replaced with a salt solution or some other fluid, have greatly the reduced the chance that diabetic retinopathy will result in blindness.
Results from the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial indicate that controlling blood glucose levels can delay the onset and progression of retinopathy.
To identify problems so that they can be treated in a timely way, regular eye exams (annually, unless your physician recommends more frequent exams) that include pupil dilation are an essential part of diabetes management.