If you have diabetes mellitus, your vision can be affected by cataracts, glaucoma and/or damage to the blood vessels in the eye. The latter is called diabetic retinopathy.
The retina lines the inside of your eye and is responsible for sending images to your brain. When the blood vessels are damaged, they may leak fluid or blood and grow scar tissue. This affects the quality of images sent to your brain and, therefore, your vision.
Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of new blindness among adults in the United States. The longer one has diabetes, the higher the incidence of developing diabetic retinopathy. Approximately 80% of people who have diabetes for 15 years have some damage to their retina. With today’s treatment options, only a small percentage of people have serious vision problems.
There are two types of diabetic retinopathy.
Background retinopathy is the early stage. Usually vision is not affected, but it can advance and cause vision problems. There usually are no symptoms with background diabetic retinopathy. An exam is the only way to diagnose changes in your eyes.
Proliferative retinopathy causes new and abnormal blood vessels to grow on the retina. These vessels may bleed causing the vision to become hazy and sometimes causing a total 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 resulting in a retinal detachment. Treatment is necessary to prevent severe loss of vision. The disease can improve with treatment.
If you are diabetic, regular eye exams are crucial. Your eyes should be checked at least once a year. Sometimes, more frequent examinations are necessary if problems are detected.