Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that affects the blood vessels in your retina. The eye condition can lead to severe vision loss or even blindness.
While you can’t completely avoid developing diabetic retinopathy, there are steps you can take to prevent the condition from stealing your sight. Keep reading to learn more about diabetic retinopathy, the risk factors of the eye condition, how to minimize your risk of getting it, and the treatment options available!
What Causes Diabetic Retinopathy?
In diabetic retinopathy, too much blood sugar from poorly managed or unmanaged diabetes can cause new, abnormal blood vessels to grow in your retina. The retina is the layer of tissue at the back of your eye.
It converts light that enters your eye into electric signals. These signals are then sent to the brain so you can see.
Sometimes, the abnormal or damaged blood vessels in the retina due to diabetic retinopathy might swell and then leak fluid. The fluid decreases vision, making it hard to see.
New blood vessels are usually abnormal and weak. As a result, they can easily break and bleed, causing vision loss or blindness.
What Are The Types of Diabetic Retinopathy?
There are two main types of diabetic retinopathy:
Non-Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (NPDR)
Early diabetic retinopathy or non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy is the most common form. During the early stages, the walls of the blood vessels in your retina weaken.
The weak walls cause small bulges called microaneurysms to appear, which may leak blood or fluid into your retina. As non-proliferative retinopathy progresses, your vision might become blurry or distorted.
Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy can progress to the most severe form, called proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Proliferative means the growth of new blood vessels on your retina.
In proliferative retinopathy, damaged blood vessels become blocked, leading to the growth of new ones. The new blood vessels don’t develop properly and can leak into your vitreous, clouding your vision.
The vitreous is the clear, jelly-like fluid that fills your eye. In some cases, repeated bleeding of the new blood vessels may lead to the formation of scar tissue.
The scar tissue can tug and pull on your retina, causing it to tear or detach. A retinal tear or detachment is a serious condition. If not treated promptly, it can result in severe vision loss or even permanent blindness.
What Are the Signs of Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy often doesn’t have symptoms during the early stages. But as it progresses, you may notice the following signs:
- Fluctuating vision
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty seeing at night
- Floaters or dark streaks in your vision
- Blank or dark areas in your vision
- Vision loss
What Are the Risk Factors?
Certain factors can increase your risk of diabetic retinopathy. They include:
- Uncontrolled or poorly controlled diabetes
- Having diabetes for a long time
- Elevated cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure
How Do You Prevent Diabetic Retinopathy?
There’s no absolute way to completely avoid getting diabetic retinopathy if you have diabetes. However, you can do the following to decrease your risk and potentially delay or prevent the onset of the condition:
Manage Your Diabetes
Take medications as instructed, eat to manage your blood sugar levels, and use insulin as directed when necessary. Also, make exercise part of your everyday routine.
Managing your diabetes through prescribed medications, diet, and exercise can help keep your blood vessels healthy and your vision intact.
Stay on Top of Your Cholesterol Levels
Regular blood tests will aid in monitoring your cholesterol levels and go a long way in reducing your risk for diabetic retinopathy. Ask your doctor how frequently you need cholesterol screening, depending on your risks.
Keep an Eye on Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure adds damage to the blood vessels in the retina. By monitoring and controlling blood pressure, you can protect the health of your eyes.
Some ways to get your blood pressure to the target level include eating a healthy diet, reducing sodium intake, managing stress, and maintaining an active lifestyle.
Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your eyes. If it’s hard to stop on your own, ask your doctor for help. It’s also important to avoid secondhand smoke.
Go for Routine Eye Exams
Diabetic retinopathy is usually not painful, so you might not notice there’s something wrong with your eyesight. That’s why regular eye examinations are crucial.
Routine eye exams can help your ophthalmologist catch and treat diabetic retinopathy early, which is vital to saving your sight. The American Optometric Association suggests undergoing comprehensive, dilated eye examinations once a year if you have diabetes.
Be On the Lookout for Any Vision Changes
Inform your doctor immediately if your vision changes abruptly or becomes spotty, dim, or blurry. Don’t wait for your next eye checkup.
Remember, diabetic retinopathy can have no symptoms until it’s at an advanced stage.
What Are the Treatment Options for Diabetic Retinopathy?
There’s no cure for diabetic retinopathy. But various treatments can help prevent or slow down vision loss. Your treatment options may include the following:
A Healthy Lifestyle
Your eye doctor may recommend healthy lifestyle changes like eating healthy and getting active to enhance diabetic retinopathy treatment and preserve your vision.
Vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF, is a protein that encourages your eye to create new blood vessels. Anti-VEGF medications are injected directly into your eye to reduce or block the effects of VEGF.
In turn, this slows the growth of abnormal blood vessels. You may need multiple injections to achieve optimal results.
Laser therapy is often used to treat proliferative diabetic retinopathy. During laser treatment, your doctor will target the blood vessels in your retina to seal leaking vessels or shrink abnormal ones.
A vitrectomy may also be performed if you have proliferative diabetic retinopathy. During the procedure, your ophthalmologist will remove and replace the blood-filled vitreous with a clear, saline solution.
Protect Your Eyesight from Diabetic Retinopathy
With frequent, comprehensive diabetic eye exams, the experienced ophthalmologists at Joshi Retina Institute will have the clearest possible picture of your eye health and be able to protect your vision.
Don’t let diabetic retinopathy catch you off guard! Schedule an eye exam at Joshi Eye Institute in Boynton Beach, FL, today to stay proactive about your eye health!