Treating diabetic retinopathy early can reduce the risk of blindness by 95 percent.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults. The CDC’s National Diabetes Statistics Report for 2020 shows that 34.2 million Americans have diabetes and 88 million American adults have prediabetes. Alarmingly, more people are developing type 1 and type 2 diabetes during youth, and racial and ethnic minorities continue to develop type 2 diabetes at higher rates.
The longer someone has diabetes, the higher risk they face for developing vision issues, and health disparities continue to affect minority populations. Prevent Blindness, the nation’s oldest volunteer eye health non-profit organization, has declared November as Diabetes-related Eye Disease Month.
Diabetes-related retinopathy (DR) is a disease that damages the blood vessels of the eye, causing them to leak and bleed into the retina. Individuals may not experience symptoms in the early stages of DR, which is why it is important for people with diabetes to have an eye exam annually, or as directed by their doctor.
If diabetes-related retinopathy is left untreated, fluid can leak into the center of the macula, called the fovea, the part of the eye where sharp, straight-ahead vision occurs. The fluid makes the macula swell, blurring vision. This condition is called diabetes-related macular edema. It can occur at any stage of diabetic retinopathy, although it is more likely to occur as the disease progresses.
Other eye conditions common among people living with diabetes include:
- Cataract, a clouding of the lens in the eye, which can cause vision to become blurry and colors to become dull. Aside from aging, diabetes is the most common risk factor for cataract.
- Glaucoma occurs with damage to the optic nerve and possible loss of side vision, usually caused by an increase in fluid pressure inside the eye.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, finding and treating diabetic retinopathy early can reduce the risk of blindness by 95 percent.