Diabetic retinopathy is a diabetes complication that affects eyes. It’s caused by damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye (retina). At first, diabetic retinopathy may cause no symptoms or only mild vision problems. Eventually, it can cause blindness.
You might not have symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. As the condition progresses, diabetic retinopathy symptoms may include:
– Spots or dark strings floating in your vision (floaters)
– Blurred vision
– Fluctuating vision
– Impaired color vision
– Dark or empty areas in your vision
– Vision loss
Over time, too much sugar in your blood can lead to the blockage of the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina, cutting off its blood supply. As a result, the eye attempts to grow new blood vessels. But these new blood vessels don’t develop properly and can leak easily.
Anyone who has diabetes can develop diabetic retinopathy. Risk of developing the eye condition can increase as a result of:
– Duration of diabetes — the longer you have diabetes, the greater your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy
– Poor control of your blood sugar level
– High blood pressure
– High cholesterol
– Tobacco use
– Being black, Hispanic or Native American
If you have diabetes, reduce your risk of getting diabetic retinopathy by doing the following:
– Manage your diabetes
– Monitor your blood sugar level
– Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control
– If you smoke or use other types of tobacco, ask your doctor to help you quit
– Pay attention to vision changes
– Ask your doctor about a glycosylated hemoglobin test
Treatment, which depends largely on the type of diabetic retinopathy you have and how severe it is, is geared to slowing or stopping progression of the condition.
1. Early diabetic retinopathy
If you have mild or moderate nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, you may not need treatment right away. However, your eye doctor will closely monitor your eyes to determine when you might need treatment. When diabetic retinopathy is mild or moderate, good blood sugar control can usually slow the progression.
2. Advanced diabetic retinopathy
If you have proliferative diabetic retinopathy or macular edema, you’ll need prompt surgical treatment.
Focal laser treatment
This laser treatment, also known as photocoagulation, can stop or slow the leakage of blood and fluid in the eye. During the procedure, leaks from abnormal blood vessels are treated with laser burns.
Scatter laser treatment
This laser treatment, also known as panretinal photocoagulation, can shrink the abnormal blood vessels. During the procedure, the areas of the retina away from the macula are treated with scattered laser burns. The burns cause the abnormal new blood vessels to shrink and scar.
This procedure uses a tiny incision in your eye to remove blood from the middle of the eye (vitreous) as well as scar tissue that’s tugging on the retina. It’s done in a surgery center or hospital using local or general anesthesia.