Diabetic Retinopathy

Many patients who have diabetes mellitus experience temporary blurring of vision, especially when their blood glucose is very high. Patients who have had diabetes for many years may also experience more serious vision loss due to worsening of cataracts or diabetic retinopathy (DR). In DR, the retina is lacking an adequate oxygen supply, and it develops significant problems in the retinal blood vessels.

The retina lines the inside of the eye and is responsible for sending images to your brain. When the blood vessels are damaged, they may leak fluid, or may develop new and abnormal blood vessels that can bleed and turn into scar tissue. This damages the retinal and can severely worsen the vision.

Diabetic Retinopathy is the leading cause of new blindness among adults in the United States. The longer one is diabetic, the higher the incidence of developing diabetic retinopathy. Approximately 80% of people who have diabetes for 15 years or more will have some damage to their retina. With treatments available today, only a small percentage of people have serious vision problems.

There are two types of diabetic retinopathy. Background retinopathy is the earlier form of retinopathy. In more advanced stages of background retinopathy, patients may experience some blurred vision. A dilated eye exam is the only way to diagnose early retinopathy changes in your eyes.

Proliferative retinopathy causes new and abnormal blood vessels to grow on the surface of the retina. These vessels can bleed which will cause the vision to become hazy and sometimes cause a severe loss of vision. There is no pain but this stage requires immediate medical attention. New vessels may also form scar tissue and pull the retina away from the back of the eye, causing a retinal detachment. Treatment is necessary to prevent severe permanent loss of vision.

If you are diabetic, regular eye exams are very important. We recommend a dilated eye exam once a year, and more often once retinopathy is detected. The disease can improve with treatment.