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Common Retinal Disease


Retinal diseases are common, especially as people age. These diseases damage the retina, which lies at the rear interior wall of the eye. The retina contains millions of light-sensitive nerves, known as rods and cones, that collect and arrange information sent to the optic nerve, which in turn delivers this data to your brain. This complex and sophisticated system creates vision, and damage to the retina can lead to sometimes-serious vision problems, including blindness.

The most common retinal disorders are:


People with diabetes are at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy (DR), the leading cause of adult blindness in the US. Diabetic retinopathy is a condition in which blood vessels in the retina become damaged or irregular, leading to injury of retinal cells. Left untreated, DR can progress, as follows:

  1. Stage one: Mild nonproliferative retinopathy – Early on, the tiny blood vessels of the retina bulge (called microaneurysms) and may bleed. Oftentimes, this stage produces no symptoms, so it’s important to have routine comprehensive eye exams to suspend or slow disease progression, and protect vision from possible permanent damage.
  • Stage two: Moderate nonproliferative retinopathy – As DR worsens, retinal blood vessels can become blocked and swell, depriving the retina of healthy blood flow. This condition, called diabetic macular edema, can cause a build-up of blood and fluid in the macula, which controls central vision. About half of people with DR will develop diabetic macular edema, and may need to have eye tests every 3-6 months to help prevent further disease progression.
  • Stage three: Severe nonproliferative retinopathy – Worsening blood vessel damage and blockage not only restrict healthy blood flow, they can lead to scarring and the creation of new, irregular blood vessels, which are weak and prone to bleeding. Complete blockage, called macular ischemia, creates symptoms like blurred or fluctuating vision, empty spaces, and new or more abundant dark spots or strings that drift across vision (floaters). In this stage, vision loss is common and usually permanent.
  • Stage four: Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) – With PDR, faulty new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina, often bleeding into the vitreous, the clear gel-like fluid of the eye. This can create scar tissue that pulls the retina loose, a serious condition called retinal detachment, which can lead to permanent vision loss, even blindness.


Like all diabetic disorders, management of diabetic retinopathy requires effective monitoring and control of blood sugar levels and blood pressure, and keeping a watchful eye on cholesterol levels. People with diabetes should have routine comprehensive eye exams, particularly if they have been diagnosed with stage one or stage two DR. Halting or slowing disease progression is the key to preventing vision damage and loss.

Sadly, statistics suggest that up to half of Americans living with diabetes don’t get regular eye examinations, and are diagnosed and treated too late for vision to be protected.

If you have diabetes and haven’t had a comprehensive eye exam in a while, don’t wait – make an appointment with an eye doctor today. Medications, implants and laser therapies can successfully stop or delay disease progression and preserve, even help restore, vision.


While family history and physical trauma are contributors, most cases of retinal tearing are caused by simple aging.

Over time, the clear gel at the center of the eye (the vitreous) begins to adhere to the retina, contracting and pulling on the fragile tissues, creating tiny retinal tears. Symptoms often include flashes of light, sudden floaters, blurred vision, black spots, and diminished peripheral vision.

Left untreated, the retina may be yanked free from the underlying supportive tissue, a severe condition called retinal detachment.

People with severe nearsightedness (myopia) are many times more vulnerable to retinal tears and detachment than those without it.

Retinal tears that are considered low risk require monitoring to ensure they heal correctly and aren’t progressing into detachment. Higher risk tears may necessitate treatments such as laser photocoagulation or, less often, cryotherapy or surgery.


With macular degeneration, the macula, which sits at the center of the retina, begins to decline, creating a loss of central vision. While it can occur any age, it is far more common in people over age 60. Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is a leading cause of vision loss in adults over 40.

The two types of AMD are:

  • Dry AMD. With age, the macula begins to thin. Early and intermediate dry AMD often produce mild or no symptoms. Caught in time, AMD may be successfully treated and vision protected. There is no available treatment for late-stage dry AMD, so catching this disease early is key.
  • Wet AMD. This late stage of AMD produces abnormal blood vessels that leak fluids beneath the macula, sometimes leading to sudden central vision blurriness and distortion. Emergency cases can produce sudden vision loss.


As we age, the vitreous pulling against the retina can create a hole in the macula, damaging central vision. Compounding the problem, fluid may seep through a macular hole, leading to blurred, warped or darkened central vision. Left untreated, a macular hole can lead to permanent vision loss.

Your risk of developing a macular hole increases if you have high blood pressure, suffered a retinal tear or detachment, experienced trauma to the eye, or have significant nearsightedness.


While retinal diseases may affect anyone, the chances of developing one may be affected by the following:

  • Aging
  • Family history/genetics
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Eye injury or trauma
  • Severe myopia (nearsightedness)


Sudden changes in vision, including blurriness, dimness, new floaters, flashes of light, and dark spots or holes in the field of vision require immediate medical attention from your eye doctor or ER personnel. Any damage to the retina may require urgent treatment to help prevent permanent vision loss.

If you have any of the risk factors described here, see your eye doctor for a comprehensive eye exam so problems can be diagnosed before they produce damaging symptoms. When caught early, retinal diseases can be treated to help arrest progress, limit or reverse damage, and protect healthy vision.


From general eye care to the most technologically-advanced eye surgeries, Lake Eye (a US Eye company) is a local leader in eye and vision care. Our team of experienced, Board-certified eye doctors is committed to preventing, treating and managing a wide range of eye conditions and diseases, and to promoting a lifetime of clear, healthy vision.

If you’re 40 or older, have diabetes, high blood pressure, a family history of eye disease, or other risk factors, don’t wait. Make an appointment for a comprehensive eye health exam today.

Written by useye

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