Diabetes Forecast

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The Healthy Living Magazine

I have retinopathy. Will I lose my vision?

Saralyn Notaro Rietz, MD, responds

Diabetic retinopathy can cause vision loss, but with early treatment, much of this loss can be prevented.

What to Know

Over the years, high levels of blood glucose can damage blood vessels in the retina, a layer of tissue at the back of the eye. The vessels can begin to leak fluid, causing swelling in the retina. If blood vessel closure occurs in the center of the retina, lack of oxygen may cause irreversible loss of vision. Closure can also cause abnormal vessel growth, bleeding, and scar tissue.

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common eye disease for people with diabetes and the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults. The risk is greater for those who have had diabetes for a long time and those with higher glucose levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

At first, you won’t have symptoms. As retinopathy gets worse, however, you may experience blurred vision, floaters, shadows, or difficulty with color perception or reading.

Find Out More

A retina specialist is an ophthalmologist who is uniquely trained and qualified to develop a treatment plan for a person with any degree of retinopathy. In the early stages, when blood vessels begin to leak but do not immediately threaten vision, observation may suffice.

With more leakage, swelling may occur in the center of the retina and cause vision loss. Through an in-office procedure, retina specialists can inject medications (steroids and others) into the eye to decrease vascular leakage. Most people need repeated doses. Vision often improves or becomes stable. Laser surgery is another in-office procedure that can stop vessel leakage.

Your retina specialist might use laser treatment, injectable medications, or microsurgery in an operating room if complications such as abnormal vessel growth, bleeding, and scar tissue arise.

If you have irreversible vision loss, vision rehabilitation services can help you with activities of daily living.

Takeaway

Diabetic retinopathy may take many forms. Early detection and treatment are key to preventing vision loss. It is a lifelong condition that requires consistent oversight. Establish a relationship with a retina specialist so that any problems can be caught early and treated. Find out more about diabetic retinopathy, including when to get checked.

Saralyn Notaro Rietz, MD, is an ophthalmologist and retina specialist in private practice in the Buffalo, New York, area.