The retina is the light-sensitive surface located at the back of your eye. It contains specialized cells called photoreceptors that enable the eye to detect light to create the images that we see. In diabetic retinopathy (DR), the blood vessels that supply the retina with nutrients and oxygen begin to weaken and become fragile, leaking fluids and resulting in swelling and deposits that can cause vision loss. Some types of DR cause new fragile vessels to form, which can block light and obscure vision. DR can occur in anyone with diabetes, but it's more common among those with uncontrolled blood sugar and people who have had diabetes for a long time.
In its earliest stages, diabetic retinopathy often causes no symptoms, even though the disease may be causing initial changes in the retina blood vessels, including swelling and development of weak spots. As existing vessels become impaired, new vessels may begin to form. Eventually, you may notice dark spots, blurry vision or an increase in floaters, those little dots that "float” in front of your field of vision. Because DR causes no symptoms in its earliest stages, having regular eye exams is critical, especially if you have diabetes.
In its earliest stages, diabetic retinopathy can be treated with better management and routine monitoring of blood sugar levels. For many patients, that's all that needed to prevent the disease from progressing, and routine eye exams can ensure the retina remains healthy. But when the disease is more advanced or continues to progress, additional treatments may be necessary to prevent permanent loss of vision. Treatments may include laser therapy to prevent blood vessel leakage or surgery to remove scar tissue that can make the retina more prone to additional damage like retinal tears or detachment.
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