Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes and a leading cause of blindness. It occurs when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels inside the retina (the tissue in the back of the eye). Anyone with diabetes is at risk to develop retinopathy, and approximately 45% of Americans with diabetes have some stage of retinopathy.
Diabetic retinopathy may not cause any changes in your vision at first, but over time it can get worse and cause vision loss, usually affecting both eyes. It does not usually have any early warning signs, so don't wait for symptoms.
As diabetic retinopathy advances, new blood vessels may begin to grow to help nourish the retinal tissue. Unfortunately, these new vessels are very fragile and thin and can leak blood into the eye. If you have this advanced stage, known as proliferative retinopathy, you may see specks of blood, or spots, floating in your vision.
It is very important to be examined by your doctor at the first sign of blurred vision, before more bleeding occurs. If left untreated, retinopathy can cause severe vision loss or even blindness. A common treatment for leaking blood vessels is laser surgery, which will place several hundred small laser burns around the area of leakage and can help reduce the risk of vision loss by up to 50%. The earlier you receive treatment, the more likely treatment will be effective.