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Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month: What to Know About Diabetic Retinopathy

It’s Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, and a great time to get more familiar with the types of eye diseases associated with a diabetes diagnosis.

Diabetes can affect all sorts of organs in the body, including the eyes. And one of these potential effects is diabetic retinopathy, a serious illness that, if left untreated, could lead to vision loss and blindness.

Greater awareness of the signs and symptoms of various eye conditions could help people get the treatment they need sooner. So, in honor of Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, we’re taking a deeper look at diabetic retinopathy causes and the first signs of illness.

How Diabetes Can Impact the Eyes

There are three primary ways that diabetes can affect the eyes:

  • Diabetic retinopathy – Damage to the blood vessels in the retina, which is the part of the eye responsible for detecting light.
  • Glaucoma – Increased fluid pressure in the eye and the nerve connecting the eye to the brain.
  • Cataracts – When the typically clear lens of the eye becomes clouded.

All three of these conditions can have serious consequences if left untreated, but diabetic retinopathy is the most common of the diabetic eye diseases, and may not be apparent at its earliest stages without a comprehensive eye exam.

Diabetic Retinopathy Causes

Diabetic retinopathy can be caused by both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and is a direct result of elevated blood sugar.

Over time, uncontrolled blood sugar can lead to blockages in the blood vessels supporting the retina, resulting in swelling and bleeding. To account for the damage, the eye will sometimes grow new blood vessels, which tend to be weak and also prone to bleeds. Another consequence of untreated diabetic retinopathy is retinal detachment caused by scar tissue forming on the back of the eye.

Fortunately, having diabetes doesn’t always mean that you’re going to get diabetic retinopathy. So long as you maintain proper blood sugar levels and check in regularly with an eye physician, you can greatly reduce the likelihood of this condition developing.

What Are the Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy?

Well then, what does diabetic retinopathy look like and what is the first sign of diabetic retinopathy?

At its earliest stages, the illness may not present with any symptoms at all. However, occasional or long-standing issues with blurry vision may occur, as well as trouble reading or seeing objects that are far away.

Over time, untreated diabetic retinopathy will progress into later stages, and this is when the blood vessels may bleed, or scar tissue may form. The signs of disease progression include the presence of dark floating spots or streaks in the vision and, in severe cases, vision loss.

Is Diabetic Retinopathy Reversible?

A diabetic retinopathy diagnosis isn’t a guarantee of progressive vision loss. Instead, with treatment, a retinal specialist should be able to mitigate further damage and potentially even repair some of the damage that has been done.

Certain retinal procedures are specifically designed to address the type of damage that diabetic retinopathy causes. A thorough eye exam and overview of an individual’s past and current medical history will help guide a treatment plan and ensure that proper steps are taken.

This Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, we encourage you to learn more about diabetic retinopathy and, if you haven’t already, schedule a routine eye exam for yourself or a loved one who may be suffering from diabetes. Other ways to observe the month include posting on social media about the ways that diabetes can affect the eyes and stressing the importance of regular eye exams for those with type 1 or 2 diabetes.