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The Basics of Eye Disease: Diabetic Retinopathy

In our last two blogs we’ve covered the signs, symptoms and treatment options for age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.  Today, in the third part of our series on eye disease, we are going to discuss diabetic retinopathy. This eye disease is a complication of diabetes, and is caused by damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue that’s located at the back of the eye, otherwise known as the retina.

Initially, diabetic retinopathy may not have any symptoms, or will only present as mild vision problems. Unfortunately, however, this eye disease may lead to blindness.

The diabetic retinopathy equation is fairly simple. The longer a person has type 1 or type 2 diabetes, and the less controlled a person’s blood sugar is, the more likely that person is to develop eye complications.

The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include:

  • Blurred and fluctuating vision
  • Decreased color vision
  • Empty or dark areas in a person’s vision
  • Loss of eyesight
  • Dark strings or spots, otherwise known as floaters, in a person’s sight

There are four stages of diabetic retinopathy:

  • Stage One: Background Retinopathy – Tiny bulges, which can leak blood, will appear in the blood vessels of the eye.
  • Stage Two: Pre-proliferative Retinopathy – Extensive changes are seen in the retina, including bleeding.
  • Stage Three: Proliferative Retinopathy – A loss of vision can be caused by new blood vessels and scar tissue that have formed on the retina.
  • Stage Four: Advanced Diabetic Retinopathy– Retinal detachment, sudden vision loss or bleeding into the eye can all result in this stage of diabetic retinopathy.

For those with mild or moderate diabetic retinopathy, treatment might not be needed right away. In these instances, the eye doctor will work alongside an endocrinologist to determine if there are ways to improve diabetes management.

Advanced diabetic retinopathy may prompt surgical treatment, which could include:

  • Focal laser treatment – Also known as photocoagulation, this treatment helps to slow or even stop the leakage of blood and fluid in the eye.
  • Vitrectomy– Tiny incisions will be made to the eye in order to remove blood from the vitreous (middle of the eye) as well as scar tissue that tugs on the retina.
  • Scatter laser treatment– This type of laser treatment is commonly known as panretinal photocoagulation and helps shrink the abnormal blood vessels.

Surgery often will either slow or even stop the progression of diabetic retinopathy. However, it’s not considered a cure because diabetes is a lifelong condition and further complications are still possible.

Schedule an appointment with your eye doctor and endocrinologist to learn more about the symptoms and treatment options for diabetic retinopathy.

Sources:

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetic-retinopathy/basics/definition/con-20023311

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Diabetic-retinopathy/Pages/Symptoms.aspx

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