In 2012, 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3% of the population, had diabetes. Approximately 1.25 million American children and adults have type 1 diabetes. 4 8 million Americans or approximately 1 out of 4 diabetics suffer from diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of blindness, often has no early warning signs. Diabetic eye disease is caused by damage to the small blood vessels of the retina. Increased sugar in the blood weakens the blood vessel walls and causes leaks, poor circulation, and may result in fragile new vessels called neovascularization. There are usually no symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. This is why is it crucial for people with diabetes to have annual eye exams. The longer a person has diabetes, the greater the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Nearly all people with type 1 diabetes and more than 60% of people with type 2 diabetes develop retinopathy in the first 20 years of living with the disease.
A person with diabetes should have a comprehensive dilated eye examination yearly, or as directed by their eye doctor. Vision changes due to diabetic retinopathy usually affect both eyes.
The most common symptoms include:
• Sudden increase in eye floaters (spots and/or dark cobweb-like strands)
• Blurred vision
• Fluctuating vision
• Dark spots
• Sudden loss of vision in one eye
• Halos around lights
• Flashing lights
Diabetic Retinopathy can be treated! Various surgeries can delay the onset of other complications and prevent further eye damage. The best course of action is to stay educated and informed. Having a dilated eye exam at least once a year, and keeping good control of blood sugar and blood pressure are also ways people can protect themselves.