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Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes can cause many areas of the body to be damaged. Unfortunately, the retina of the eye is one of those areas. Diabetes causes blood vessels in the eye to be damaged, they can leak fluid or bleed. This causes the retina to swell and form deposits called exudates. This early form of diabetic retinopathy is called "Background Retinopathy." You many not notice any change in your vision when you develop this early form of the disease, but it can lead to other, more serious forms of retinopathy that affect your vision.

When fluid collects in the macula (the part of the retina that allows us to see fine details), reading and other close work may become difficult. This is called macular edema. In proliferative retinopathy, new, fragile blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina. These new blood vessels are called neovascularization, and can lead to serious vision problems, because the new vessels can break and bleed into the vitreous. (The vitreous is the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the center of the eye.) When the vitreous becomes clouded with blood, light is prevented from passing through the eye to the retina. This can blur or distort your vision.

How Do I Know If I Have Diabetic Retinopathy?

You might not. There are often no symptoms of early diabetic retinopathy. Dr. Brems can tell you if you show signs of diabetic eye disease by looking at the inside of the eye with a special instrument called an ophthalmoscope. To better see inside the eye, he may dilate (widen) your pupil with eye drops.

However, because diabetic retinopathy often causes no symptoms even in advanced cases, it is extremely important to have a yearly dilated eye exam. Diabetic retinopathy can be treated, and vision loss prevented if it is caught early enough.

How Can I Prevent Vision Loss?

You can't always prevent vision loss. The longer a person has diabetes, the higher the likelihood they will develop diabetic retinopathy. About 80 percent of people who have had diabetes at least 15 years have some damage to the blood vessels in their retinas. However, taking good care of yourself significantly reduces your risk of diabetic eye disease, as well as many of the other complications associated with diabetes.

Keep your blood sugar under good control
Maintain a healthy diet
Exercise regularly

Remember, yearly dilated eye exams by an ophthalmologist are the best way to preserve your vision. Early detection of diabetic eye disease is essential in preventing vision loss.