Diabetic Retinopathy – What is it?

Diabetic retinopathy is a fairly rare condition with less than 200,000 cases every year. Diabetic retinopathy, or diabetic eye disease occurs when increased blood pressure and poorly regulated glucose levels damage the blood vessels in the back, or retinal tissue, of the eye. Symptoms from diabetic retinopathy can often go unnoticed as minor visual problems. Left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can lead to permanent blindness.

What Causes Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy or diabetic eye disease is an eye complication that can arise for anyone diagnosed or suffering from diabetes. As with most diabetic complications, diabetic eye disease is caused by increased glucose levels in the blood. High glucose levels can damage blood vessels in the eye causing them to leak and the retinal tissue to swell, leading to blurry or cloudy vision and left untreated, permanent blindness. In some circumstances, diabetic retinopathy can lead to the growth of additional and irregular blood vessels affecting your vision.

Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

Although often times symptoms of diabetic retinopathy can often go unnoticed at first, they can become progressively worse over time. Symptoms of the diabetic eye disease include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Eye floaters
  • Night blindness, or difficulty seeing in the dark
  • Blind spots in your vision

If you are diabetic and suffering from any of these conditions, schedule a comprehensive eye exam with your eye doctor as soon as possible to prevent further vision damage or loss.

Nonproliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (NPDR)

Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, or NPDR for short, is the early stages of the diabetic eye disease. In cases of NPDR, the walls of the smaller blood vessels in the eye begin to weaken, and ruptures or microaneurysms occur, causing the vessels to leak into the eye.

Larger blood vessels can also become irregularly shaped and weak as the syndrome becomes more severe. In more severe cases, damage from nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy can cause the inner portion of the retina (macula) to swell. If this is the case, you will need to seek the eye care of your local eye doctor for macular edema.

Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy or PDR, poses a greater threat to your vision, as it can affect both your peripheral and central vision. PDR occurs when blood vessel damage causes blood flow to stop. In an attempt to correct, the eye sometimes tries to grow new, irregular and abnormal blood vessels which fail to provide the retina with sufficient blood flow. As the condition progresses, scar tissue and damage from the growth of these new blood vessels can lead to retinal detachment and permanent loss of eyesight or vision loss.

Diabetic Eye Test

Different diabetic eye tests can be used by your eye doctor to test for diabetic retinopathy. Recent advances in the field of eye care such as GDx Imaging allow your optometrist to conduct a detailed scan of your retina in under one second. GDx imaging is extremely helpful for the early diagnosis of eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy.

Fundus photography provides your eye doctor with a 200 degree view of your inner eye, without the side effects of symptoms of eye dilation.

Diabetic Retinopathy Treatment

Although there is no way of permanently curing the disease, the treatment your eye doctor recommends will depend on the type of diabetic retinopathy you’re experiencing. All treatments for diabetic retinopathy work to slow the progression of the disease, and preserve your vision.

Laser surgery can be used to seal up leaking blood vessels and prevent additional blood vessels from leaking. Laser eye surgery can also be used to shrink and prevent the growth of new, abnormal blood vessels in the eye, slowing further damage to the eye.

As research progresses, new medications are being developed to treat diabetic retinopathy. Your eye doctor can inject a medication into the eye to help stop the growth or development of new blood vessels within the eye, and prevent future damage from the condition.

Being a progressive condition, it’s important to contact your local eye care center or eye doctor for a diabetic eye exam sooner rather than later. There is no cure for diabetic retinopathy, but caught early enough, treatments are available to help prevent worsening vision loss or permanent blindness.