What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?

When diabetes isn’t managed properly it can cause a number of health complications, including diabetic retinopathy. What is diabetic retinopathy? It’s defined as blood vessel damage in the eye’s retina due to poorly maintained blood sugar levels. The retina is responsible for processing light into images. At first, diabetic retinopathy may only cause mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all. However, it can lead to vision loss, or blindness, if not treated.

Diabetic retinopathy tends to have these four stages:

1. Mild Non-Proliferative Retinopathy: This is categorized as a mild form of the condition, usually in the beginning stages with no symptoms present.

2. Moderate Non-Proliferative Retinopathy: In this stage, the blood vessels around your retina can begin to swell and change shape, preventing blood flow.

3. Severe Non-Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy: Many blood vessels can become blocked in this stage. Your retina may begin to create new and abnormal blood vessels.

4. Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy: This is the more advanced stage where new abnormal blood vessels grow in the retina. These blood vessels may leak blood and form scar tissue, causing your retina to detach.

Any sudden changes in your vision should be checked immediately. If you’re experiencing high blood sugar levels, it’s important to check in with your primary doctor to help manage it. It’s also crucial to follow consistent diabetic eye care.

Causes of Diabetic Retinopathy

If a diabetic person has a high blood sugar level for too long it can result in swelling of the small blood vessels around the retina. Eventually, your eye may begin to grow new blood vessels, but they’ll be abnormal, and underdeveloped. Since the new vessels are weak, there is the possibility of blood and fluid leaking into the retina. As the condition progresses, more blood vessels can become blocked, forming scar tissue. The extra pressure can eventually cause your retina to tear or detach, which may lead to blindness. Anybody with diabetes is at risk for getting diabetic retinopathy. However, there are a few factors that may put you at higher risk, including:

  • Poorly or incorrectly managed blood sugar levels
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Pregnancy
  • Tobacco use

Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

You may not experience diabetic retinopathy symptoms until the condition becomes more serious. Symptoms may include:

  • Floaters
  • Blurry vision due to diabetes
  • Dark areas in your field of vision
  • Sudden color blindness
  • Vision loss
  • Diabetic blindness

How To Prevent Diabetic Retinopathy

Many people with diabetes have some degree of diabetic retinopathy and may not know it. Working with your primary physician to regulate your blood sugar and blood pressure levels can help slow down this condition, or stop it all together. Other steps you can take to prevent diabetic retinopathy include:

  • Scheduling an annual eye exam to track the health of your eyes
  • Going in for a comprehensive eye exam if you’re pregnant and have diabetes
  • Avoid smoking and tobacco products

Diabetic Retinopathy Treatment

Treatment for diabetic retinopathy will depend on the type and severity of the complication. The first step will require that the person see a doctor to help regulate their diabetes and slow the development of diabetic retinopathy. In mild cases, a doctor may decide to monitor the patient’s eyes carefully to see how it progresses. In more severe cases, the patient will need to have surgery immediately to prevent vision loss or blindness.

Testing and Diagnosing Diabetic Retinopathy

If you have diabetes, it’s important that you have an annual eye exam to help identify and treat any issues early on. In order to check for diabetic retinopathy, your eye doctor will administer a test called fluorescein angiography. This test can reveal any changes in your retinal blood vessels. During this test, your eye doctor will inject a fluorescent yellow dye into one of your eye’s veins to help outline the blood vessels. From there, photographs will be taken so any changes in your retina can be examined and noted.

Your eye doctor may also check for glaucoma and cataracts, two conditions that occur more frequently in people with diabetes. Schedule an appointment at your neighborhood Pearle Vision EyeCare Center to check the health of your eyes.

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