What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy can be an invisible, yet life changing condition. That's why it is critical that people living with diabetes have annual vision screenings so that the condition can be detected before it causes vision loss.   

In its early stages, diabetic retinopathy does not usually cause symptoms or changes to eyesight, allowing the disease to progress undetected. Once symptoms appear, vision loss may be permanent, even with treatment.  

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that occurs when high blood sugar levels damage tiny blood vessels in the retina, causing them to leak or hemorrhage, ultimately distorting vision once progressed to severe levels. 

In a study, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that nearly one out of three adults with diabetes over age 40 have diabetic retinopathy. The prevalence is even higher for Black and Mexican Americans.  

"When I was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, it wasn't caught until too late. My whole world went from light to everyday was just getting darker and darker, just like a dimmer switch," said Monica, a patient who lost her vision due to diabetic retinopathy. "Everybody will go to their primary care doctor, but not everybody will go to an ophthalmologist or a specialist unless there is a problem. If I could have found out in my primary care office, hey you’re starting to show signs of diabetic retinopathy, you’ve got to take better care of yourself, it may have prevented me from going blind."

According to the CDC, regular eye exams and timely treatment could prevent up to 90% of diabetes-related blindness.1 Only about 60% of people with diabetes have recommended yearly exams for diabetic retinopathy.2 Imaging technology is available that allows diabetic patients to receive their retinal exam during a routine medical appointment and even in retail drug stores, without having to make a trip to an eye specialist.  

"Diabetic retinopathy can be treated if detected early," said Richard Farchione, director of global marketing. "We are focused on increasing access to diabetic retinal exams through technology that can be used in locations that make it easier for patients – like their doctor’s office or a retail pharmacy. We've enabled diabetic retinal exams for more than one million patients and are committed to continuing our efforts to help people living with diabetes."