Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes and the leading cause of vision impairment and blindness among working-age adults.
The disease affects blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye.
Diabetes can have a devastating effect on vision, but the good news is that regular dilated eye exams by an ophthalmologist, an early diagnosis and timely treatment can preserve sight for the majority of people with diabetes.
It's important that people with diabetes have their eyes checked as recommended by their ophthalmologist. For many patients, that means once a year, but sometimes more often.
People with diabetes should also maintain good control of their blood sugar levels and their blood pressure to prevent diabetic retinopathy. Family members are urged to make sure their loved ones receive the care they need to keep their eyes healthy.
Diabetes is a growing problem in the United States. In 2015, an estimated 30.3 million Americans had the disease. According to the American Diabetes Association, of the 30.3 million adults with diabetes, 7.2 million were undiagnosed. Approximately 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year.
Annual eye exams are important, even if there are no symptoms of vision loss. At first, people may not notice any changes and may even have 20/20 vision. But over time, diabetic retinopathy usually gets worse and starts affecting sight.
The longer someone has diabetes, the greater the risk of developing retinopathy. After 15 years, almost 80 percent of people with Type 1 diabetes have some form of eye disease. But retinopathy can also develop within the first year or two after the onset of diabetes.
Anyone who has blurred vision, notices a change in vision in one eye or sees floating spots should make an appointment quickly with an ophthalmologist.
During the exam, the physician will dilate the eye, or enlarge the pupil, so he or she can look inside to check for signs of the disease.
Early detection, timely treatment, and follow-up care can reduce the risk of vision loss by up to 90 percent.
In addition to yearly eye exams, doctors say it's important for people with diabetes to develop good health habits to preserve their vision. That means watching their diet and maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, not smoking and carefully monitoring and controlling their blood sugar levels.