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Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that transpires as a consequence of injury to the blood vessels of the retina in individuals who have diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy can form if you have type 1 or 2 diabetes and a long history of uncontrolled high blood sugar levels. While you begin with only mild vision issues, you can ultimately lose your sight. Un-treated diabetic retinopathy is one of the most common reasons for blindness in the United States, according to the National Eye Institute. It’s also the most prevalent eye disease in people with diabetes.
What are the types of diabetic retinopathy?
Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR)
NPDR is also recognized as background retinopathy. It’s called “nonproliferative” because the eye doesn’t make new blood vessels while in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. During the early stages of retinopathy, impaired blood vessels frequently drip or leak blood and fluid into the eye. In some instances, the center of the retina, or macula, starts to swell. This triggers a condition referred to as macular edema. The three stages of NPDR are mild, moderate, and severe, which may progress to the other type, or fourth stage, proliferative diabetic retinopathy.
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR)
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy, or advanced retinopathy, is the stage of retinopathy in which new blood vessels start to develop within the retina. These new blood vessels are generally irregular and grow in the center of the eye.
What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?
Having symptoms during the early stages of this condition is uncommon. The signs of diabetic retinopathy often don’t appear until significant damage occurs inside of the eye. You can prevent unseen damage by managing your blood sugar levels under good control and getting regular eye examinations to evaluate your eye health.
When the symptoms do appear, they’re most commonly seen in both eyes and can include:
Seeing dark spots and floaters
Difficulty seeing at night
A loss of vision
Difficulty identifying colors
What causes diabetic retinopathy?
High levels of sugar in the blood over extensive periods cause diabetic retinopathy. This excessive damage from sugar impacts the blood vessels that provide the retina with blood. High blood pressure is also a risk factor for retinopathy.
The retina is a layer of tissue in the back of the eye. It handles adjusting images that the eye sees into nerve signals that the brain can understand. When blood vessels of the retina are infected, they can grow blocked, which cuts off some of the retina’s blood supply. This loss of blood flow can trigger other, weaker blood vessels to develop. These new blood vessels can leak and produce scar tissue that can provide a loss of vision.
The longer you have diabetes, the higher your possibilities of developing diabetic retinopathy become. Nearly everyone who has diabetes for more than 30 years will show some symptoms of retinopathy. Managing your diabetes under control can help slow the progression.
Pregnant women with preexisting diabetes or are intending to become pregnant should have a comprehensive eye exam to diagnose retinopathy.
How is diabetic retinopathy diagnosed?
Your doctor can determine diabetic retinopathy using a dilated eye exam. This includes the use of eye drops that make the pupils open wide, allowing your physician to get a good view of the inside of your eye. Your physician will check for:
Abnormal blood vessels
Leaking of the blood vessels
Blocked blood vessels
Damage to the nerve tissue
Changes to the lens
They may also offer a fluorescein angiography test. During this test, your physician will inject a dye into your arm, enabling them to track how the blood flows in your eye. They’ll take photographs of the dye circulating within of your eye to decide which vessels are inhibited, leaking, or broken.
An optical coherence tomography (OCT) exam is an imaging test that uses light waves to produce images of the retina. These images allow your physician to ascertain your retina’s diameter and thickness. OCT exams help decide how much fluid, if any, has concentrated in the retina.
How is diabetic retinopathy treated?
Treatment options are restricted for people who have early diabetic retinopathy. Your physician may want to perform regular eye exams to monitor eye health in case treatment becomes essential. An endocrinologist can help to slow the progression of retinopathy by assisting you to regulate your diabetes.
In advanced diabetic retinopathy, the treatment based on the type and severity of retinopathy.
Photocoagulation surgery can assist in preventing vision loss. This type of surgery uses a laser to manage or stop leakage by burning the vessels to seal them. The kinds of photocoagulation and other treatments include the following:
Scatter photocoagulation involves utilizing a laser to burn hundreds of tiny holes in the eyes two or more times to decrease the risk of blindness.
Focal photocoagulation includes using a laser to target a particular leaky vessel in the macula to keep macular edema from worsening.
Vitrectomy includes eliminating scar tissue and cloudy fluid from the vitreous fluid of the eye.
How is diabetic retinopathy Stop?
If you have diabetes, it’s essential to preserve healthy levels of the following to prevent diabetic retinopathy:
Other ways to restrict or manage the condition include the following:
Quit smoking if you smoke.
Get regular, moderate exercise various times per week. If you have retinopathy, check with your healthcare team to determine the best activities for you.
Get annual eye exams.
Diabetic retinopathy is a severe eye condition that can lead to reduced eyesight or even blindness in those with diabetes. If your physician has diagnosed you with diabetes, it’s essential to do the following:
Get routine eye examinations and physical checkups.
Keep your cholesterol, and blood pressure, blood sugar, at healthy levels.
Be mindful of any differences you may notice in your vision, and address them with your doctor.