Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the eye. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels in the retina. At its earliest stages, most people do not have changes in their vision. Annual eye exams, early detection, and management are necessary to limit vision loss and permanent damage to the eye.
Some people develop a condition called macular edema. It occurs when the damaged blood vessels leak fluid and lipids on the macula, the part of the retina that lets us see detail. The fluid makes the macula swell, which results in blurring vision.
As the disease progresses, it enters its advanced stage. Fragile, new blood vessels grow along the retina and in the clear, gel-like vitreous that fills the inside of the eye. Without timely treatment, these new blood vessels can bleed, cloud vision, and destroy the retina.
Early detection is the best protection against loss of vision. People with diabetes should schedule eye examinations at least once a year. Diabetic retinopathy can only be detected with routine eye exams and timely treatment.