As of 2020, 34.2 million people in the US have diabetes (10.5% of the US population), and 1 in 5 people don’t know they have it. Diabetes is the number one cause of kidney failure and adult blindness. Diabetes is associated with several eye health issues including cataracts and glaucoma, but the most well known diabetic eye disease is diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease that only affects diabetics. It occurs when the fragile vascular network that supplies the retina – the light sensitive tissue at the back of the eye that helps us see – begins to swell or leak. During the beginning stages of the disease, there may be no noticeable symptoms, so it’s important to have your eyes checked at least once a year, if you have diabetes.
Once symptoms of diabetic retinopathy do develop, they can include: dark or black spots in your visual field, or blurry vision, and it increases over time. This is a result of bleeding at the back of the eye, which prevents a clear image from being transmitted from the retina to the brain.
Whether you have type 1, type 2, or even just gestational diabetes, you are at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy. The longer you have had the disease, the greater the risk. It is essential to keep your blood sugar levels under control to prevent vision loss, and this may require a trip back to your primary care physician.
Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy
Current Treatment guidelines call for:
- Regular eye examinations through dilated pupils
- Photocoagulation – laser therapy that creates a barrier of scar tissue that slows the growth of new blood vessels
- Medicines called VEGF inhibitors – these can slow down or reverse retinopathy
- Vitrectomy – a surgical procedure that clears hemorrhaged blood that can cloud vision from inside the eye Injections of medicines called corticosteroids