Every person who has diabetes is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. This condition occurs when prolonged periods of elevated blood sugar interrupt blood flow to the tiny blood vessels in the retina. These vessels weaken, swell, and leak fluid onto the small piece of tissue at the back of the eye. The damage incurred to the retina can lead to vision loss, so it is important to recognize not only risk but whether or not symptoms may occur to warn of damage.
Signs of Diabetic Retinopathy
Ophthalmologists are concerned about their diabetic patients because they know that diabetic retinopathy is “silent” during its early stages. There are no outward signs of what is happening in the eye. The diabetic eye exam includes a close examination of the retina and its blood vessels, though, serving to catch changes in the blood vessels of the eye sooner rather than later.
If routine eye exams are not maintained and diabetic retinopathy is allowed to progress, patients may experience floaters, blurry vision, and gaps in their visual field. These symptoms are irreversible.
The obvious factor in getting diabetic retinopathy is having diabetes. There is more to it than that, though. Some people with diabetes are more susceptible to eye damage than others. Generally speaking, people whose blood sugar is not well managed and is frequently higher than is recommended have a greater likelihood of suffering blood vessel damage in the retina. Even with good management, people who have diabetes for a prolonged period, such as adults who were diagnosed with diabetes in childhood, have a higher risk of diabetic retinopathy. The key to long-term eye health is to see the eye doctor regularly. Treatment can be developed to reduce blood vessel damage related to diabetes.
Treating Diabetic Retinopathy
There is unfortunately no cure for diabetic retinopathy. However, an ophthalmologist can provide care to preserve vision for as long as possible. Patients diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy are first advised to get their blood sugar levels under control. A general health practitioner or nutritionist may help with this. The ophthalmologist monitors the disease while administering appropriate treatment based on its severity.
There are several treatment options for diabetic retinopathy, including VEGF injections to stop the growth of weak blood vessels and laser procedures that reduce leakage. In some instances, vitrectomy surgery may be needed.