Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that affects the eyes, more specifically the retina. The retina is the light-sensitive lining at the back of the eye. Its function is to receive light focused by the eye’s lens and send the light as signals to the brain for visual recognition. When the retina is damaged, the ability to interpret light as images is compromised.
What Causes Diabetic Retinopathy?
High blood glucose levels for an extended period of time may cause damage to the retina’s blood vessels. This damage is what leads to the onset of diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy progresses through four stages, each stage leading to more severe injury to the retina and eventually vision loss.
Mild nonproliferative retinopathy – In the earliest stage, microaneurysms or tiny areas of swelling in the retina’s blood vessels develop and may cause fluid to leak into the retina.
Moderate nonproliferative retinopathy – Blood vessels in the retina may begin to become distorted due to swelling, causing them to lose their ability to transport blood.
Severe nonproliferative retinopathy – Blood vessels become blocked and unable to transport blood to the retina. This prompts the growth of new blood vessels.
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy – This is the advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy. New blood vessels have proliferated and grow into the fluid that fills the eye (vitreous gel). These new blood vessels are delicate and are more prone to breaking and leaking the blood they’re carrying. Scar tissue associated with repairing the blood vessels may cause the retina to pull away from its current position, also known as retinal detachment. Retinal detachment may cause permanent vision loss.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, call your doctor immediately. These include blurred vision, difficulty seeing at night, seeing spots or floaters, as well as seeing dark or empty spots in the center of your vision.
How to Prevent Diabetic Retinopathy
Managing your diabetes is an important part of staying healthy and reducing complications. There are a few ways you can reduce your risk of diabetic retinopathy now.
Keep blood glucose levels within range – Individuals with uncontrolled blood glucose levels are more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy. By following a detailed care plan outlined by your doctor, the onset of diabetic retinopathy may be delayed or prevented. Some individuals may need to control blood glucose levels using insulin injections. In this case, a rechargeable, touchscreen insulin pump offers a simple-to-use and convenient way to manage insulin therapy in your daily life.
Schedule a yearly vision exam – Diabetic retinopathy may go unnoticed until vision loss begins to occur. For this reason, the American Optometric Association recommends that individuals with diabetes schedule a comprehensive vision exam at least once a year. Recognizing signs of diabetic retinopathy early as well as implementing treatment right away is crucial to save one’s vision.
If not treated properly, a complication of diabetic retinopathy, called Diabetic Macular Edema (DME), can develop. DME occurs when fluid builds up in the macula, a specific region of the retina. It is this complication that is responsible for vision loss in most individuals diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy.
Consult Your Doctor if You Suspect You Have Retinopathy
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and suspect you have signs of diabetic retinopathy, contact your doctor right away. Additionally, ask your diabetes care team how you can delay or prevent diabetic retinopathy. They will work with you to create the care plan that meets the needs of your specific diagnosis.
Laura Johnson is a part time blogger and full time adventurer. She enjoys writing about her passion, the human body. This especially includes her passion for self growth and health.