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Diabetic Retinopathy: What You Need to Know

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of the eye found in people who have diabetes. It affects the blood vessels in the retina, the layer of nerve cells that line the inside back wall of the eye. It usually affects both eyes. Diabetic retinopathy can cause vision loss and blindness if not treated early. If you have diabetes, making sure to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam once a year from your eye care professional can help you take steps to protect your vision. About 40 to 45 percent of individuals with diabetes in America are diagnosed with some stage of diabetic retinopathy. You can prevent or delay vision loss by managing your diabetes through activity, healthy eating and medication. 

What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is caused when high blood sugar levels cause damage to blood vessels in the retina. Any individual with type 1 or type 2 diabetes can develop this condition. Persons who have had diabetes for a long time or who have uncontrolled blood sugar levels are more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition in which the blood vessels in the retina, the tissue at the back of the eye that senses light, become damaged. At the earliest stages of the condition, microaneurysms occur. These are localized sac-like swellings of the retina’s blood vessels. As the condition advances, some of the retina’s blood vessels become blocked. If left untreated, the blocked blood vessels begin to deprive several areas of the retina of their blood supply. 

During the advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy, called proliferative retinopathy,  the blood flow blockage signals to the body that new blood vessels need to be made to replace the ones that are blocked. These signals trigger the growth of new blood vessels which develop abnormal and fragile, growing along the retina and the surface of the clear, vitreous gel that fills the white of the eye. These blood vessels are not problematic. If, however, their thin walls leak blood, they can cause severe vision loss and even blindness. 

What Are the Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors of Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy can be undetectable in its early stages and may cause no vision changes or disturbances. In these early stages, you may notice that you have trouble reading or seeing objects from far away. These changes may not be continuous at this point and may come and go.  

Over time, it can get increasingly worse and cause vision loss. In the later stages, symptoms may include floaters (spots or strings floating in your field of vision), blurred vision, impaired color, 

What Are the Medications and Treatments for Diabetic Retinopathy?

No treatment is needed during the initial stages of diabetic retinopathy. The best course of action at this point is to manage your diabetes, making sure your blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol are all under control. 

Proliferative retinopathy, the last stage of progression, is treated with a surgical procedure called scatter laser treatment. This procedure helps to shrink the abnormal blood vessels. It may take more than one surgical procedure to complete your scatter laser treatment. This surgery may not be able to restore your full vision but may be able to save some of your sight. Other side effects include a slight reduction in your color vision and night vision. 

Scatter laser treatment is most effective before the new abnormal and fragile blood vessels begin to bleed. For this reason, it is important to have regular, comprehensive dilated eye exams performed by your eye care professional.

How Tucker & Associates Can Help 

If you have diabetes and are looking to have one of your yearly comprehensive dilated eye exams, or are worried about the health of your eyes, call Tucker & Associates to set up an appointment. 


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