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Watch Out for Diabetic Retinopathy

Man holding hands over eyes

If you have diabetes, take a few minutes to learn about diabetic retinopathy, [542 KB] the most common form of diabetes-related eye disease and the leading cause of blindness in working-age Americans. Taking an active role in managing your diabetes can help prevent vision loss from diabetic retinopathy.

Stay Informed

Diabetic retinopathy is one of several common eye diseases, but is the most common cause of vision impairment and blindness among working-age adults in the United States. From 2010 to 2050, the number of Americans with diabetic retinopathy is expected to nearly double, from 7.7 million to 14.6 million. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when diabetes affects the blood vessels in the retina (the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye), causing them to leak and distort vision. If not found and treated early, diabetic retinopathy can cause permanent vision loss.

Stay Alert

Diabetic retinopathy may not have any symptoms in the early stages. So if you have diabetes, be sure to schedule a comprehensive dilated eye exam once a year. Diabetic retinopathy can be diagnosed and treated before you notice any vision problems.

Symptoms that could indicate that the disease has progressed to a more advanced stage include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Spots that “float” in your vision
  • Halos around lights
  • Loss of central vision
  • Loss of color vision

Anyone with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, or women who had diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes), can develop diabetic retinopathy. The risk increases the longer a person has diabetes and when blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels are hard to control.

Fruit, measuring tape, dumbbell, glucose monitoring meter

Healthy eating can reduce your risk for diabetic retinopathy.

Stay on Top of It

There are simple steps you can take to keep your eyes healthy and make sure you’re seeing your best. Taking an active role in managing your diabetes is critical:

  • Make healthy eating and physical activity part of your daily routine. This can help control blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol, which can reduce your risk for developing diabetic retinopathy.
  • Quit smoking or never start. Smoking increases your risk for developing many complications from diabetes, including diabetic retinopathy.
  • If you have diabetes, schedule an annual comprehensive dilated eye exam. This can help catch vision problems early.
  • Closely follow your doctor’s instructions on how often to check your blood sugar. Keep your blood sugar as close as possible to the target range your doctor recommends.
  • If you notice any changes in your vision in one or both eyes, contact an eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist) right away.

Stay Positive

Although there is no cure for diabetic retinopathy, some treatments can prevent permanent vision loss. Your eye doctor may recommend laser treatment that can help shrink blood vessels, injections that can reduce swelling, or surgery. It’s important for you to go to all follow-up appointments that your doctor schedules.

If you have diabetic retinopathy, low-vision rehabilitation and aids such as magnifying glasses, large-print newspapers, and telescopic lenses can help you stay independent. Ask your eye doctor about seeing a low-vision specialist.

Take steps to protect your eyes and learn about your risk for diabetic retinopathy. Catching diabetic retinopathy early, getting treatment right away, and getting good follow-up care can protect your eyes against permanent vision loss.

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