People with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing a variety of eye conditions that are collectively referred to as ‘diabetic eye disease’. A common complication is diabetic retinopathy where the small vessels of the retina (nerve layer) are affected. Diabetic retinopathy is a diabetic eye condition that one must be aware of.
What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is a diabetic complication that affects the eyes. This condition causes damage to the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye’s blood vessels. It is a progressive disease. In the early stages, the patient may not notice any visual symptoms.
However, the seriousness of this condition should not be underestimated, as diabetic retinopathy may result in severe vision loss.
Diabetic retinopathy is classified as:
Non-Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (NPDR)
The early stage of diabetic retinopathy is called background retinopathy. This is the more prevalent kind where the blood vessel walls in the retina become weakened, resulting in tiny protrusions that may leak blood or fluid into the retina.
Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy
This is the more advanced stage of the disease. As the retinopathy progresses, new abnormal vessels may develop (neovascularisation) on the surface of the retina or the optic nerve. These abnormal vessels may rupture and bleed into the eye and cause a sudden loss of vision. There may also be scarring and fibrosis which may cause traction and pull on the retina, resulting in retinal detachment and loss of vision.
If the macula (the central retina) is affected and there is leakage of fluid and swelling, patients may lose vision.
Who Are At Higher Risk?
Individuals with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are highly susceptible to developing this disease related to the diabetic eye. If one has had diabetes for a long time and has not kept the blood sugar levels under strict control, there’s a greater chance of developing diabetic retinopathy over time.
Hypertension, high levels of cholesterol, and tobacco usage are other contributory factors that may worsen diabetic eye disease.
In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, you may not notice any changes in your eyesight. As diabetic eye disease progresses, you may experience the following signs and symptoms:
- An increase in the number of spots or black lines across your vision (floaters).
- Vision fluctuations: blurry, distorted, cloudy, patchy
- Reduced field of vision
- Change in colours
When Should You See A Doctor?
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and if you have had the disease for a prolonged period, and if your vision becomes cloudy, patchy, or unclear, consult your ophthalmologist immediately.
If undetected and especially if the underlying conditions are poorly managed, diabetic retinopathy can result in total vision loss.
Diabetic retinopathy is not always preventable. However, by having regular diabetic eye screening and by keeping a close check on blood sugar, and blood pressure levels, managing diabetes with medication, and cutting down on tobacco, one could lower the chances of developing the disease. Following a healthy diet rich in fiber and low in glycemic carbohydrates is also very important.
Treatment starts with managing blood sugar and diabetes by means of medication, exercise, and diet, and continuous regular monitoring of your diabetic eye health.
At the more progressive stage of the disease with some eye damage, your doctor will recommend one of the following treatments depending on the severity of the condition.
Laser Therapy: The laser treatment is performed as an outpatient procedure. It is often performed over several sessions to reduce the swelling of the retina. A laser beam is focused on the retina which induces areas of scarring. This helps to prevent disease progression and helps to close abnormal leaking blood vessels.
Anti VEGF Therapy: a steroid injection in the eye to stop inflammation of the macular
Vitrectomy: In very advanced cases with bleeding in the eye, a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy may need to be performed to remove the blood and gel in the eye as well as to remove any scarred tissue.
Diabetic retinopathy is a serious eye condition. Even though it is irreversible, it is treatable. Speak with your eye specialist today to diagnose and rule out any diabetic eye conditions.