What is Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is a retinal degeneration disease in which the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye, is damaged by abnormal blood sugar levels, causing blurred vision and blindness. A 2004 journal from the American Diabetes Association reports, “new cases of blindness in adults between the age of 20-74 is most often caused by diabetic retinopathy.” What is even more alarming is that diabetic retinopathy is completely preventable and treatable, but millions of type 1 and type 2 diabetics are impacted by this disease.
The American Diabetes Association further states diabetic retinopathy progresses in two stages from mild non-proliferative abnormalities to proliferative diabetic retinopathy.
Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy
Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy is the first stage of retinopathy where the blood vessels in the retina begin to weaken. At first, the vessels leak a small amount of fluid into the retina which causes the macula (part of the retina) to swell. In this stage, symptoms are often so subtle that you may not notice changes in your vision.
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy
If diabetic retinopathy is left untreated or undetected, it may develop into proliferative diabetic retinopathy. This is a more advanced stage of retinopathy in which blood vessels are unable to bring adequate oxygen to the retina. As a result, new blood vessels grow in the retina and vitreous, the gel-like fluid that fills your eye and shapes it. These new blood vessels then leak blood into the retina and vitreous, resulting in cloudy vision.
Diabetic Macular Edema
Diabetic macular edema is a secondary disorder caused by diabetic retinopathy. Sometimes leaking fluid can be so severe it builds on the macula, the part of the eye that focuses on objects and controls central vision.
In this article, we’ll identify the causes and symptoms of diabetic retinopathy and offer ways diabetics can reduce their chances of developing diabetic retinopathy. We’ll also discuss the treatments available for those who are already affected by diabetic retinopathy.
What are the Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy?
Irregular blood sugar levels cause blood vessels in the retina to leak fluid and blood. As a result, the retinal tissue swells and vision blurs. Cloudy or blurred vision are not the only symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, and if you or a loved-one are diabetic it’s important to the know the signs. The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy may include:
- Seeing small floating objects in your eyes
- Cloudy or blurred vision
- Difficulty seeing at night
- Holes or black spots in vision
- Loss of central or peripheral vision
- Double vision
- Vision fluctuates from clear to blurry
- Difficulty seeing colors vividly
It is critical that diabetics have a comprehensive eye exam yearly to ensure proper treatment of diabetic retinopathy and even prevention.
How Can I Prevent Diabetic Retinopathy?
The best approach to avoiding diabetic retinopathy is to manage your diabetes according to your doctor’s orders. This means taking the medications your doctor prescribes, exercising regularly, and eating a balanced diet. Diabetic retinopathy is completely preventable if you keep your blood sugar levels within normal ranges.
Here are 4 ways you may prevent diabetic retinopathy:
- Know your sugar levels: this means testing your sugar when you wake up, before eating, and 90 minutes after eating. You’ll want to keep your blood glucose within normal ranges. Low and high sugar is what causes damage to your eyes.
- Eat healthy: eating a balanced diet is critical to ensuring your sugar levels do not rise or fall drastically. Vegetable, fruits that are low on the glycemic index, whole grains, protein, and lean meats are great choices.
- Exercise regularly: talk with your doctor about which exercises you are healthy enough to perform, then workout several times a week. Activity regulates your sugar because your body uses carbs (sources of sugar) for energy and it makes your body sensitive to the insulin hormone
- Have a yearly eye exam: we cannot stress enough how important it is to have a yearly comprehensive eye exam because your doctor will be able to see weakened blood vessels in your eyes before you notice any symptoms. Diabetic retinopathy can be cured, but only when it’s caught early enough to stop extensive damage.
Unfortunately, many diabetics already have diabetic retinopathy but there’s many treatments available for diabetic retinopathy.
How is Diabetic Retinopathy Diagnosed and Treated?
Although diabetic retinopathy can be prevented, millions of people are losing their vision from it. According to a 2015 article in Eye and Vision, “an estimated 285 million people with diabetes mellitus worldwide, approximately one third have signs of diabetic retinopathy and of these, a further one third of diabetic retinopathy is vision-threatening.” This is why diagnosis and treatment are so important. Unlike most retinal degenerative diseases, diabetic retinopathy may be treated and sometimes cured but quick diagnosis is crucial.
Diabetic retinopathy is diagnosed when your eye doctor conducts a comprehensive dilated eye exam. During this exam your doctor will perform several tests and dilate your pupils so he or she can look for changes in the tissues and blood vessels of your eyes.
Diabetic retinopathy is treated using several types of therapies. The first step is getting your blood glucose levels under control. Further treatment depends on the severity of your retinopathy, but it may include medications, laser surgery, eye injections, or even eye implants.
American Diabetes Association: Retinopathy in Diabetics