Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss and even blindness among diabetics. It develops when high blood sugar levels destroy some of your retinal blood vessels. There are multiple stages to this disease, the earliest of which may not present any symptoms.
That’s why comprehensive eye exams are so important for those with diabetes. The earlier the eye disease is detected, the better the treatment outcome.
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetics are at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy, and the longer one has the disease, the more likely they are to develop this sight-robbing eye disease.
Fortunately, you can take certain steps to prevent its development. If you already have it, do not lose hope. There are ways to slow down its progression.
Diabetes & Your Eyes
Diabetes prohibits the body from properly using and storing sugar, leaving excessive amounts of sugar in the bloodstream which can cause damage to blood vessels and various parts of the body- including the eyes and visual system. Diabetic retinopathy is when this condition results in progressive damage to the retina at the back of the eye. Left untreated, diabetic retinopathy will eventually cause blindness. Despite the fact that proper monitoring and treatment can successfully halt the progression of diabetic eye disease, it is still the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults in North America.
Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy progressively damages the blood vessels of the retina to the point that they begin to leak blood and fluids. Retinopathy typically affects both eyes and often will have no symptoms in the early stages – making regular eye exams essential for anyone with diabetes. The longer an individual has had diabetes, the more likely it is that they will have some degree of retinopathy.
- Blurred or cloudy vision
- Seeing floaters or spots
- Difficulty reading or seeing close objects
- Double Vision
- Poor Night Vision
Untreated diabetic retinopathy can also lead to a detached retina, which, left untreated, can cause blindness.
Many of the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, particularly in the early stages of vision loss, can be reversed with proper treatment and control of blood sugar levels. Diabetics with or without retinopathy must see an eye doctor at least once a year for a comprehensive eye exam to monitor any changes and ensure that proper treatment is prescribed.
What Causes Diabetic Retinopathy?
What are the causes of diabetic retinopathy and long-term diabetes? Changes in blood-sugar levels are the main culprit. People suffering from diabetes generally develop diabetic retinopathy after at least ten years of having the disease. Once you are diagnosed with diabetes, it is essential to have an eye exam once a year or more.
In the early stage of diabetic retinopathy, called background or non-proliferative retinopathy, high blood sugar in the retina damages blood vessels, which bleed or leak fluid. This leaking or bleeding causes swelling in the retina, which forms deposits.
In the later stage of diabetic retinopathy, called proliferative retinopathy, new blood vessels begin to grow on the retina. These new blood vessels may break, causing bleeding into the vitreous, which is the clear gelatinous matter that fills the inside of the eye. This breakage can cause serious vision difficulties and can cause blindness.
You can significantly reduce your risk of diabetic retinopathy by following some simple steps and being aware of your overall health. The most important thing you can do is maintain your blood sugar at a healthy level. This can be achieved by eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.
How Is Diabetic Retinopathy Treated?
Medication. One type of medication is called anti-VEGF medication, which helps to reduce swelling of the macula, slow vision loss and at times improve vision. This drug is administered by injecting it into the eye. Steroid medicine is another option to reduce macular swelling, also injected into the eye.
Laser surgery can seal off leaking blood vessels and reduce swelling of the retina. Laser surgery can also help shrink blood vessels and prevent them from growing again.
Vitrectomy. If a large amount of blood has collected in your eye or there’s extensive scar tissue that’s likely to cause or has already caused, retinal detachment, your ophthalmologist may recommend a surgery called vitrectomy.
During vitrectomy surgery, your eye doctor will make a very small incision in your eyewall and remove most of the vitreous from your eye using a suction tool. If you require a vitrectomy in both eyes, you’ll only get surgery on 1 eye at a time.
If you or a loved one has diabetes or diabetic retinopathy, contact Nittany Eye Associates in Central PA today to set up an appointment. When diagnosed early and treated promptly, the vast majority of those with diabetic retinopathy can avoid significant vision loss.