How to slow or avoid
By Allison Tsai
Maybe you’ve noticed that street signs look blurry at night when you’re driving. Or maybe tiny dark
spots have appeared in your vision. These
are among the signs of retinopathy, a
common eye complication of diabetes.
Often there are no symptoms.
You might even have 20/20 vision and have
advanced retinopathy, says Emily Chew, MD,
deputy clinical director at the National Eye
Institute, part of the National Institutes of
Health. Left untreated, retinopathy can lead
to vision loss and blindness. That’s why it’s
important for people with diabetes to have a
yearly dilated eye exam, in which an eye doctor
looks for damage. And with advances in diabetes
management, eye screenings, and treatment,
many people with diabetes may be able to avoid
diabetic retinopathy altogether or to slow or stop
INTO THE EYE
Diabetic retinopathy is brought on by chronically
elevated blood glucose levels that, over time, damage
blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye and cause
blurred or cloudy vision or, eventually, complete loss of
vision, says Richard Rosen, MD, director of retina services at
the New York Eye and Ear In;rmary of Mount Sinai.
In the ;rst stage of the disease, small areas of swelling occur
in the retina’s tiny blood vessels. As a response to the damage,
the immune system sends red and white blood cells into the
small capillaries responsible for nourishing the eye tissue and
clogs them. “This starts to shut down the capillaries, and then you
get areas that don’t have adequate circulation, oxygen, and other
nutrients,” Rosen says.
The lack of circulation causes weakened blood vessels in the eye to
leak. As the disease progresses, fragile, rapidly growing blood vessels
form on the retina, bleeding and leaking ;uid into the eye. Fluid leakage
from retinal blood vessels can result in swelling in the part of the eye
responsible for central vision, called macular edema, says Chew.