Diabetic retinopathy — the No. 1 cause of irreversible vision loss in people ages 20-65 — is the most common diabetic eye disorder, but it’s less common than it was more than 20 years ago and definitely more treatable. Prevention of retinopathy begins with good blood glucose control, proper diet and control of blood pressure.

Many health care professionals recommend eye supplements, such those containing carotenoids, and other vitamins related to eye health. Some people with diabetes may be genetically predisposed to getting retinopathy, despite having good blood glucose control. If detected early, though, treatment for diabetic retinopathy is quite effective.

The retina is a thin layer of cells at the back of your eyeball. The retina is just about .07 square inches thick, but is a very important component of the eye, and allows us to see clearly. When blood sugar gets too high and there is a great deal of “oxidative stress” in the bloodstream, this can cause fragile blood vessels in the retina to tear or leak.

Annual dilated eye exams are a critical part of diabetes care. This will help diagnose problems in the earliest stages of retinopathy, when it is the most treatable. In many cases, if retinopathy is discovered during yearly eye exams, it can be treated before any symptoms occur.

Symptoms of retinopathy can be a slow loss of vision, black spots appearing in the field of vision or more dramatic changes in vision if a blood vessel suddenly bursts. Blood pressure control is critical because, as you might expect, an increase in blood pressure can add stress to already weakened blood vessels in the retina. Lipid management is also important — including LDL, HDL and triglycerides — as lipids can build up and cause blood vessel problems.

Treatment options for diabetic retinopathy range from laser treatment to surgery and injectable drug therapy. The object of treatment is to prevent further leakage and wild erratic growth of blood vessels.

If you are diagnosed with retinopathy, remember it is very treatable, and practicing good diabetes care will help keep your eyes healthy. If you notice vision changes such as floaters, blurred vision, field of vision changes, and night vision difficulties, contact your healthcare provider. These symptoms can be caused by other eye problems as well, which is why a proper annual eye exam by an ophthalmologist is so important. For example, it is not uncommon to have blurred vision as a result of high blood sugar. This is because the glucose load can cause blood vessels in the eye to swell changing the lens shape temporarily. Getting blood sugars back to normal generally alleviates this problem.

Diabetic retinopathy can present as non-proliferative and proliferative, with proliferative being the more serious condition. It is important to stress that regular check-ups are essential to helping prevent and effectively treat eye problems associated with diabetes. As I mentioned earlier, vitamin supplements are recommended by some health practitioners to keep the eyes healthy. These supplements contain anti-oxidants, and you can check with your own healthcare team to see what may be right for you.