Nearly 30 million people in the United States have a form of diabetes. That’s 11% of the population between ages 20 and 79. Diabetes plays a large role on an individual’s health and lifestyle.
Many individuals with diabetes aren’t aware that 40-45% of diabetics are affected by diabetic retinopathy, and leave about 24,000 blind every year.
Diabetic retinopathy is an extremely prevalent eye disease that too many individuals aren’t aware of. Because symptoms do not show until the disease has formed, it is often too late to fully prevent the disease.
Out of the 1.4 million new cases of diabetes each year, anywhere between 12 and 24 thousand individuals will also develop a form of diabetic retinopathy.
So, what is it and what do you need to know?
This disease strictly affects individuals with diabetes. When a person’s blood sugar level remains too high for a prolonged period, damage to the eye’s blood vessels may occur. If these blood vessels are damaged, it may result in fluid or blood seepage into the eye.
From here, the four stages of diabetic retinopathy begin.
The first stage of diabetic retinopathy is called mild non-proliferative retinopathy. This occurs when the retina’s blood vessels swell, causing fluid to leak into the retina.
The second stage of the disease is called moderate non-proliferative retinopathy. Here, blood vessels begin to swell and lose essential capabilities, like transporting blood.
As this disease progresses, non-proliferative retinopathy occurs. Here, blood vessels are blocked and blood supply is limited, resulting in fluid and blood leakage into the eye. Small spots of blood may leak into the retina as well.
In this stage, other problems may occur, such as leakage from cholesterol deposits or fat deposits. Macular edema is possible as well—here, your macula swells from the fluid leakage and causes blurred vision. Macular ischemia may also occur, which is when the eye’s blood vessels close due to lack of blood supply.
From here, the last stage of the disease occurs: proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Once the retina’s blood vessels close up, the eye will attempt to create new ones. However, these blood vessels are not able to produce normally and actually do not supply the correct blood flow as needed.
Because of these new blood vessels and the scar tissue that has already formed, the retina may actually wrinkle and attempt to detach itself. Several things may happen due to PDR. The first being vitreous hemorrhage.
Vitreous hemorrhages happen when the new blood vessels cause blood to form in the vitreous. This may create “floaters,” or dark spots, in one’s vision. If this worsens, vision loss is possible. The individual will only be able to perceive light and dark. However, this is not permanent. Once the blood clears up, vision can turn back to normal.
Traction retinal detachment, however, is a bit more serious. The retina may actually detach itself due to blood vessel shrinkage. Retinal detachment causes severe vision loss.
Neovascular glaucoma happens when blood vessels attempt to form in the iris. This causes fluid blockage and pressure buildup, resulting in optic nerve damage and glaucoma.
Prevention and Risk Factors
There are several ways to help prevent diabetic retinopathy, and the first is to take care of your diabetes to the best of your ability. Follow all guidelines and recommendations, and take care of your blood sugar levels.
Because damage to the eye doesn’t occur until the disease progresses, it is important for all diabetics to get an annual comprehensive eye exam. Early detection of diabetic retinopathy can reduce your risk of blindness by a massive 95%.
If you are a pregnant diabetic woman, it is extremely important to receive an eye exam immediately and also during your pregnancy. Pregnancy creates a high risk for diabetic retinopathy, and for those who already have the disease may experience rapid side effects and worsening.
Hispanics and African Americans are at a higher risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, and the longer one has diabetes, the greater the chance there is to develop diabetic retinopathy.
Because many individuals are unfamiliar with this disease, it’s important to spread awareness and be mindful of such side effects and symptoms.
- Floating spots
- Blurred vision
- Color loss
- Central vision loss
Haddrill, Marilyn. (n.d.). Diabetic Retinopathy. Retrieved from http://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/diabetic.htm