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Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes can lead to new blood vessel growth over the retina. The new blood vessels can break and cause scar tissue to develop, which can pull the retina away from the back of the eye. This is known as retinal detachment, and it can lead to blindness if untreated. In addition, abnormal blood vessels can grow on the iris, which can lead to glaucoma. People with diabetes are 25 times more likely to lose vision than those who are not diabetic.

Signs and symptoms of diabetic retinopathy

Anyone who has diabetes is at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy however, not all diabetics will be affected. In the early stages, there may not be any obvious changes to vision, but by the time you notice vision changes from diabetes, your eyes may already be irreparably damaged by the disease.

This is precisely why routine eye exams are so important. During the examination, we can detect signs of diabetes in your eyes even before you notice any visual symptoms, and early detection and treatment can prevent vision loss.

Floaters are one symptom of diabetic retinopathy. Sometimes, difficulty reading or doing close work can indicate that fluid is collecting in the macula, the most light-sensitive part of the retina. This fluid build-up is called macular edema. Another symptom is double vision, which occurs when the nerves controlling the eye muscles are affected.

If you experience any of these symptoms, call us immediately. Individuals with diabetes in our office are seen at least twice a year; once for a retinal fundus photo (a picture of the back of the eye) and typically 6 months later, for a dilated fundus exam, so we can make sure that there is a close watch on the eye and to make sure that we find and treat problems when they are more manageable.

If there is leakage or suspected leakage, then a special test called fluorescein angiography is done.

Diabetic retinopathy occurs because high blood sugar damages blood vessels.  They then leak fluid or bleed. The retina then swells and form deposits. This is an early form of diabetic retinopathy called non-proliferative or background retinopathy.

In a later stage, called proliferative retinopathy, new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina. These new blood vessels can lead to serious vision problems because they can break and bleed into the vitreous, the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the interior of the eye. Proliferative retinopathy is a much more serious form of the disease and can lead to blindness.

People with diabetes can significantly reduce their risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by using common sense and taking good care of their body:

  • Keep good control of blood sugar.
  • Maintain a healthy diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions closely.

Diabetic retinopathy can be treated with a laser to seal off leaking blood vessels and inhibit the growth of new vessels.

In some patients, blood leaks into the vitreous humor and clouds vision. At times, the clouding will dissipate on its own.  At times, a more serious procedure called a vitrectomy may be performed to remove blood that has leaked into the vitreous humor.