A diabetic eye examination performed at least once a year is extremely important because diabetic eye disease often lacks early symptoms. Diabetic eye disease describes a group of eye conditions that affect people with diabetes. These conditions include diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, cataracts and glaucoma.
Diabetic retinopathy, the most common diabetic eye disease, is the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults. Diabetic retinopathy is caused by damage to the small blood vessels in the retina due to chronically high blood sugar. Damage to these small blood vessels causes them to leak fluid or hemorrhage (bleed), which can distort vision. Diabetic macular edema is a consequence of these leaky blood vessels causing swelling in the area of the retina called the macula. In advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy, abnormal blood vessels appear and proliferate on the surface of the retina, which can lead to scarring, retinal tears/detachments and permanent vision loss.
Vision that is lost due to diabetic retinopathy can be irreversible; however, early detection and treatment can reduce the risk of blindness by 95 percent. Because diabetic eye disease often lacks early symptoms, individuals with diabetes should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.