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Diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease caused by diabetes. Though diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, severe vision loss can usually be prevented with regular and timely eye examinations. Patients with diabetes should be examined at least once a year, regardless of symptoms or sugar control. With regular dilated exams, the chance of severe vision loss is less than 1 percent over the patient’s lifetime.

Patients with diabetes tend to develop cataracts at an earlier age. Symptoms of cataracts include blurry vision, which can be indistinguishable from blurry vision caused by diabetic retinopathy. Patients with cataracts and diabetes may require treatment of the diabetic retinopathy before successful cataract surgery or other vision correction surgery like LASIK can be performed.

Symptoms

Symptoms of the disease range from no symptoms to blindness. Blurry vision is the most common symptom of diabetic retinopathy.  It is our goal to examine and diagnose patients with diabetic retinopathy before symptoms develop.

Blurry vision results from abnormal accumulation of fluid in the macula, the functional center of the retina. With time, the normal blood vessels of the retina become leaky. Fluid leaches out of the normal retinal blood vessels and pools in the retina. When fluid accumulates in the macula, called diabetic macular edema, the vision becomes blurred. The more leakage and fluid accumulation, the blurrier the vision.

Advanced diabetic retinopathy can be associated with floaters. Bleeding into the vitreous, called a vitreous hemorrhage, can occur in cases of proliferative diabetic retinopathy, the advanced stage of the disease that may cause blindness.

Treatment

Treatment, which depends largely on the type of diabetic retinopathy you have and how severe it is, is geared to slowing or stopping progression of the condition. If you have mild or moderate diabetic retinopathy, you may not need treatment right away. However, your eye doctor will closely monitor your eyes to determine when you might need treatment.

Work with your diabetes doctor (endocrinologist) to determine if there are ways to improve your diabetes management. When diabetic retinopathy is mild or moderate, good blood sugar control can usually slow the progression.

If you have advanced diabetic retinopathy or macular edema, you may need some type of surgical treatment. Many patients who have diabetes, but not advanced diabetic retinopathy, may be good candidates for laser vision correction. Ask your eye doctor to discuss these options with you.