Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes that affects the eyes. It occurs when blood sugar levels grow, causing damage the blood vessels of light sensitive tissue at the back of the eyes (retina). This condition can develop in any individual who have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Treatment is necessary to prevent eye complications or even blindness.
Signs and symptoms of diabetic retinopathy may include:
- Blurred vision
- Spots or shapes floating in the field of vision
- Color vision impairment
Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes.
Diabetic retinopathy is caused when too much sugar in the blood level leads to clogging of the tiny blood vessels that support the retina, cutting off its supply of blood. In turn, the eye attempts to produce new blood vessels; however, they usually don’t develop properly and end up causing leakage.
There are two types of diabetic retinopathy:
- Early diabetic retinopathy: A condition where the walls of the blood vessels in the retina weaken and new blood vessels aren’t growing
- Advanced diabetic retinopathy: A condition where damaged blood vessels close off, causing the growth of new, abnormal blood cells in the retina that can cause further eye complications and build up pressure in the eyeball.
Factors associated with increased risk of developing diabetic retinopathy include:
- Diabetes duration
- High blood pressure level
- High cholesterol level
- Poor blood sugar control
- Being pregnant
- Being black, Hispanic or Native American
Complications that can arise from diabetic retinopathy may include:
- Vitreous hemorrhage: Leakage of blood into the areas in and around the eye
- Retinal detachment: A condition when part of the eye pulls away from supportive tissue
- Glaucoma: A group of eye conditions that cause pressure in the eye and blindness
- Blindness: Loss of vision
Treatment for diabetic retinopathy depends on the type of diabetic retinopathy and how severe the condition is. Early diabetic retinopathy may only require an eye examination to determine if an individual is in need of further treatment, as well as monitoring of blood sugar levels. Advanced diabetic retinopathy may require:
- Focal laser treatment to stop or slow the leakage of blood and fluid in the eye.
- Scatter laser treatment to shrink abnormal blood vessels.
- Vitrectomy to remove blood from the middle of the eye as well as scar tissue that’s pulling on the retina.
Surgery often slows or stops the progression of diabetic retinopathy, but it does not cure the condition. Since diabetes is a lifelong condition, future retinal damage and vision loss may be possible even after treatment. Getting regular eye examinations and additional treatment is often recommended.
While prevention of diabetic retinopathy is not always possible, getting regular eye examinations and controlling blood sugar and blood pressure levels can help prevent further complications and severe vision loss. A few recommendations for preventing diabetic retinopathy may include:
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Exercising regularly
- Attending to any changes in vision
- Taking medications as prescribed
- Controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Quitting smoking
- Making annual eye examination appointments