All people with diabetes -- both type 1 and type 2 -- are at risk for diabetic retinopathy. That's why everyone with diabetes should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.
Between 40 percent to 45 percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy. If you have diabetic retinopathy, your doctor can recommend treatment to help prevent its progression.
During pregnancy, diabetic retinopathy may be a problem for women with diabetes. To protect vision, every pregnant woman with diabetes should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam as soon as possible. Your doctor may recommend additional exams during your pregnancy.
Blood vessels damaged from diabetic retinopathy can cause vision loss in two ways:
- Fragile, abnormal blood vessels can develop and leak blood into the center of the eye, blurring vision. This is proliferative retinopathy, the fourth (and most advanced stage) of the disease.
- Fluid can leak into the center of the macula, the part of the eye where sharp, straight-ahead vision occurs. The fluid makes the macula swell, blurring vision. This condition is called macular edema. It can occur at any stage of diabetic retinopathy, although it is more likely to occur as the disease progresses. About half of the people with proliferative retinopathy also have macular edema.
Diabetic retinopathy often has no early warning signs. Don't wait for diabetic retinopathy symptoms to appear. Be sure to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.
If diabetic retinopathy symptoms do appear, you will see a few specks of blood, or spots, "floating" in your vision. If spots occur, see your eye care professional as soon as possible. You may need diabetic retinopathy treatment before more serious bleeding occurs. Hemorrhages tend to happen more than once, often during sleep.
Sometimes, without treatment, the spots clear, and your vision will improve; however, bleeding can recur and cause severely blurred vision. You need to be examined by your eye care professional at the first sign of blurred vision, before more bleeding occurs.
If left untreated, proliferative retinopathy can cause severe vision loss and even blindness. Also, the earlier you receive treatment, the more likely it will be effective.