According to the National Institute of Health, diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness in the United States. Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that occurs when the tiny blood vessels inside the retina (the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye) are damaged. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can result in permanent vision loss.
Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy
People who suffer from diabetes have high levels of blood sugar. Over time, this condition can affect the circulatory system of the retina and cause damage to the blood vessels that supply the retina. In the earliest stage of the disease, known as background diabetic retinopathy, the weakened arteries begin to leak, forming small, dot-like hemorrhages. These leaking vessels usually lead to swelling of the retina (macular edema) and decreased vision.
The next stage is known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy. During this stage, decreased blood flow causes the retina to become deprived of oxygen. New blood vessels are formed in an attempt to maintain sufficient oxygen levels in the retina, but these new blood vessels are weak and often break. When these newer, weaker blood vessels break, fluid leaks into the retina’s center, causing vision loss that can range from slight to severe. Other serious conditions, such as glaucoma and retinal detachment, can also be a result of diabetic retinopathy.
In most cases, no treatment is needed during the first three stages of diabetic retinopathy (unless you have macular edema). Proliferative retinopathy and macular edema are most commonly treated with laser surgery. During the procedure, the laser shrinks abnormal blood vessels and stops their growth. This laser treatment, which can be done in less than 30 minutes, can improve your vision and prevent further vision loss.
Common symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include blurred vision, floaters and flashes, and sudden loss of vision. In some cases, no symptoms are noticed at all, even when considerable damage has already been done. That is why everyone with diabetes, type 1 and type 2, should have a comprehensive eye exam at least once a year.
Early detection and treatment of diabetic retinopathy are essential to protecting your eyesight. Don’t wait for symptoms, contact us today to schedule a comprehensive eye care appointment.