Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a particular condition that tends to happen in individuals who have been diagnosed with diabetes. The condition results in advanced damage to the retina, which is the lining that is sensitive to the light and located at the back of the eye. The condition is a serious complication associated with diabetes that threatens one’s vision.

Diabetes hinders an individual’s ability to properly utilize and store glucose, or sugar. This particular disease is identified by excess sugar in the bloodstream, which can result in damage within the body, and this includes the eyes.

Over a period of time, diabetes will cause damage to the body’s blood vessels, which includes the blood vessels in the retina. The diabetic eye condition happens when these vessels leak fluids, including blood. As a result, retinal tissue swells and causes blurred or cloudy vision. The condition tends to impact both of the eyes. The longer that an individual suffers from diabetes, the more of a chance there is that the individual will develop the diabetic eye condition. If the condition is left untreated, it can lead to blindness. 

Symptoms of the condition may include:

  • Seeing floaters or spots
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficult seeing at nighttime
  • Having an empty or dark spot in your central vision

When individuals with diabetes have extended periods of increased blood sugar, it is possible for fluid to build up inside of the eye lens that is responsible for focusing. As a result, the lens’ curvature can change, causing changes in your vision. However, if blood sugar levels can get under control, the lens will normally return to normal and vision will improve. Individuals who have diabetes and are able to have a handle on their levels can slow the onset as well as the spreading of diabetic retinopathy.

According to a 2018 survey conducted by the American Osteopathic Association, almost 50 percent of Americans did not know whether or not diabetic eye diseases had visible symptoms—and just so you know, the earlier stages of the condition generally do not. This survey also found that over 33 percent of Americans were not aware that an all-inclusive eye examination is ultimately the sole way to discern whether an individual’s diabetes can result in blindness, and this is why the American Osteopathic Association suggests that all individuals who have been diagnosed with diabetes undergo a comprehensive eye exam with dilation at least once annually. By detecting diabetic retinopathy early on and getting treatment, the possibility for severe vision loss can be significantly reduced. 

The treatment for diabetic retinopathy can vary depending on the severity of the disease. Individuals with the condition may need to undergo laser surgery in order to seal any blood vessels that are leaking or in an effort to discourage the leaking of other vessels. Your eye doctor may need to inject medicine into the to help with the decrease of inflammation or to stop new blood vessels from forming. Individuals with progressive cases of the disease may need to undergo a surgical intervention that removes the fluid (similar to gel) in the back of the eye, which is known as the vitreous, and replaces it. Surgery may be necessary to repair the detachment of the retina, which is when the lining at the back of the eye that receives the light ends up separating.

If you have diabetes, you may be able to slow or prevent diabetic retinopathy development by:

  • Taking your medication as prescribed
  • Exercising regularly
  • Staying on top of your diet
  • Avoiding smoking and alcohol
  • Monitoring high blood pressure

What Can Cause Diabetic Retinopathy?

The disease can result from the overall damage that diabetes causes to the blood vessels that are found in the retina. These blood vessels that have been damaged can result in the loss of vision:

  • Fluid can potentially leak into the part of the retina that is accountable for clear central vision, and this area is known as the macula. While the macula is small, it is the area of the retina that permits individuals to see final detail and colors. The excess fluid can result in the macula swelling as well as blurred vision. 
  • In an effort to improve circulation of blood in the retina, brand-new vessels are likely to form on the surface. These abnormal and fragile blood vessels can possibly cause blood to leak into the back of your eye and cause vision blockage. 

Diabetic retinopathy is categorized into two forms:

  • Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) – This is considered the early stages of the disease during which the symptoms are nonexistent or mild. The vessels located within the retina become weak during NPDR. Microaneurysms, which are small bulges within the vessels, may potentially leak into your retina, resulting in the macula swelling. 
  • Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) – This is considered the more progressive type of the disease. Once the condition reaches this stage, there will be blood circulation issues that will deprive the retina of necessary oxygen. Because of this, brand-new and fragile vessels will start to develop in the retina as well as in the fluid that is in the back of your eye. These vessels may result in blood leakage into the clouding vision.

Some potential problems of PDR are the retina becoming detached as a result of the formation of scar tissue and glaucoma development. Glaucoma is a specific type of eye disease that causes advanced damage to your optic nerve. During PDR, brand-new vessels are formed in the part of the eye where fluid drains from the eye, increasing eye pressure and potentially damaging the optic nerve. If this is left untreated, it can result in severe loss of vision and possibly blindness.

Some of the diabetic retinopathy risk factors are as follows:

  • Diabetes – Individuals with type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes may develop the diabetic eye condition. The longer that an individual suffers from diabetes, the more of a chance there is that the individual is to develop the disease, especially if he or she does not properly control the diabetes.
  • Race – African Americans and Hispanics are more at risk to develop diabetic retinopathy than other races.
  • Medical Conditions – Individuals who suffer from other medical conditions like high cholesterol or high blood pressure are at an increased risk.
  • Pregnancy – Women who are pregnant are at a greater risk to develop diabetes as well as diabetic retinopathy. In the event that a female develops gestational diabetes, she is at an increased risk of also developing traditional diabetes later in life.

How Can Diabetic Retinopathy Be Diagnosed?

Diabetic retinopathy may be diagnosed by undergoing an all-inclusive eye exam. Testing, which is done with a focus on evaluating the macula and retina, may include the following:

  • Patient History – This is used to determine difficulties with vision, the existence of diabetes, as well as any other concerns with general health that may be impacting your vision.
  • Refraction – This is used to determine whether a new vision prescription is necessary.
  • Visual Acuity Measurements – This is used to discern to what extent your central vision has been impacted.
  • Evaluation of Ocular Structures – This uses a dilated pupil and includes the evaluation of the retina.
  • Measurement of Eye Pressure

Additional testing might include the following:

  • Retinal Photography – Also known as tomography, this is used to document the retina’s current status.
  • Fluorescein Angiography – This is used to evaluate the abnormal growth of any blood vessels. 

How Can Diabetic Retinopathy Be Treated?

Laser treatment, which is also known as photocoagulation, is utilized to stop fluid and blood from leaking into your retina. A laser may be used for the creation of small burns in certain parts of the retina where there are uncharacteristic blood vessels presence in an effort to close the leaks.

Treatment for the disease will vary depending on the extent. Ultimately, the end goal will be to slow or halt its progression.

In the earlier stages of NPDR, routine monitoring may often be the only treatment necessary. You can also control the disease’s progression with proper diet and routine exercise while also controlling your blood sugar levels. 

Injections of medicine into the eye are focused on depressing the formation of any abnormal vessels and may even help reduce the growth of the destructive effects of the disease.

In the event that diabetic retinopathy advances, the abnormal vessels may cause blood and fluid to leak into the retina, which can lead to macula edema. Photocoagulation, which is laser treatment, may be able to stop the leakage. A laser helps to create small burns into the areas where the abnormal vessels are to attempt to seal these leaks. 

Widespread growth of blood vessels in the retina, which tends to occur in PDR, may be able to be treated by developing a pattern of laser burns across your retina. This will result in the shrinkage and disappearance of abnormal vessels. With this particular procedure, it is possible for the loss of partial side vision to occur in an effort to protect the central vision.

If you would like to learn more, contact us today at Performance Vision Inc.