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Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among U.S. adults ages 20-74

Posted at 8:10 AM, Sep 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-26 09:17:26-04

More people than ever in the United States suffer from age-related eye diseases.

One of the four most common conditions is a condition called diabetic retinopathy.

This diabetic eye disease can cause damage to the small blood vessels in the lining at the back of the eye.

It is estimated that more than 30 million people living in the United States have diabetes. Having diabetes increases the risk for vision loss and blindness from diabetic eye diseases.

“Diabetic retinopathy is when someone has diabetes, either type 1 or 2," said optometrist Dr. Ashley Setterberg. "The blood sugar can actually cause the blood vessels in the back of the eye to leak blood and with that, it can start causing even edema, which is swelling in the back of the eye in addition to the blood leakage.”

The longer a person has diabetes, the greater their risk is of developing diabetic eye disease.

“They estimate about one third of the people with diabetes will get diabetic retinopathy in their lifetime," Setterberg said. "Usually within the first 10 years of diabetes."

If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can cause significant vision loss.

“If the bleeding happens right in the macula, which is where you see 20/20 from, then it can start to affect your vision. You can also get a little bit of edema in there which can affect your vision as well. So pretty much any floaters that you see, any sort of blurriness, or even if it is part of your vision that is blurry, definitely seek medical attention right away,” said Setterberg.

The good news: people who have Type 1 or Type 2 can prevent this condition with early detection, proper management of your diabetes and routine eye exams.

“If it goes untreated, the diabetic retinopathy can lead to blindness," she said. "Keeping your blood sugar well under control is the number one thing that can help decrease your risk of getting diabetic retinopathy. Stopping smoking can also help, they found and keeping blood pressure under control can also help as well."

Early detection and treatment can lower the risk of blindness by 95 percent, and managing diabetes with diet, exercise, and medication is the best way for people with diabetes to lower the risk of vision loss.

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among U.S. adults ages 20-74, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Early diagnosis and timely treatment are critical, as 50 percent of patients are diagnosed too late for treatment to be effective.

Because diabetic retinopathy often goes unnoticed until vision loss occurs, people with diabetes should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.

For diabetic retinopathy that is threatening or affecting your sight, the main treatments are:

• laser treatment – to treat the growth of new blood vessels at the back of the eye (retina) in cases of proliferative diabetic retinopathy and to stabilize some cases of maculopathy

• eye injections – to treat severe maculopathy that's threatening your sight

• eye surgery – to remove blood or scar tissue from the eye if laser treatment isn't possible because retinopathy is too advanced