Diabetes is a disease that interferes with the body's ability to use and store sugar, which can cause many health problems. One of those problems is diabetic retinopathy, a condition which causes progressive damage to the retina, the light sensitive lining at the back of the eye. It is a serious sight-threatening complication of diabetes. Too much sugar in the blood can cause damage throughout the body, including the eyes.
Diabetic retinopathy is the result of damage to the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina. They leak blood and other fluids that cause swelling of retinal tissue and clouding of vision. The condition usually affects both eyes. The longer a person has diabetes, the more likely they will develop diabetic retinopathy. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness.
Often there are no visual symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. That is why the American Optometric Association recommends that everyone with diabetes have a comprehensive dilated eye examination once a year. Early detection and treatment can limit the potential for significant vision loss from diabetic retinopathy.
If you are diabetic, you can prevent or slow the development of diabetic retinopathy by taking your prescribed medication, sticking to your diet, exercising regularly, controlling high blood pressure and avoiding alcohol or smoking. Treatment for diabetic retinopathy depends on the stage of the disease and is directed at trying to slow or stop the progression of the disease.
Persons with diabetic retinopathy can suffer significant vision loss. Special low vision devices such as telescopic and microscopic lenses, hand and stand magnifiers, and video magnification systems can be prescribed to make the most of remaining vision.