What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetes is a serious medical condition that can cause many complications, including diabetic retinopathy. This condition affects the blood vessels in your eyes and can lead to vision loss if not found and treated properly. Fortunately for people with diabetes, there are ways to detect diabetic retinopathy before it becomes a problem.

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common eye disease in adults with diabetes. It occurs when blood vessels in the retina of your eye become damaged by high blood sugar levels over time. This damage can lead to vision loss, but it's usually preventable if you get regular eye exams and treatment for diabetes.

Diabetic retinopathy can cause blurry vision or blind spots in your field of vision and even make it difficult to see at night. The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy vary from person to person, and they may not show up until years after you start having trouble seeing clearly.

According to the National Eye Institute, there are two types of diabetic retinopathy: early and advanced. Early diabetic retinopathy — also known as nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) — is more common and means that new blood vessels are not growing (proliferating). However, the walls of the blood vessels in your retina begin to weaken, and tiny bulges protrude from the walls of the smaller vessels, sometimes leaking fluid and blood into the retina. 

Advanced diabetic retinopathy — known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy — means that abnormal blood vessels are growing in the retina. These new blood vessels are fragile and can leak into the the center of your eye (vitreous). Eventually, these new blood vessels can cause the retina to detach from the back of your eye.

How is Diabetic Retinopathy Treated?

Eye care professionals can often treat diabetic retinopathy with Antivascular Endothelial Growth Factor (anti-VEGF) injections. Although there are other types of treatments (lasers), anti-VEGF is by far the most common option for treating both types of diabetic retinopathy. 

Anti-VEGF is a medicine that helps stop the growth of abnormal blood vessels over a series of injections. With medicine to numb the eyeball, most people don't feel pain during an eye injection. The number of injections can vary depending on the individual. Your doctor will tell you how many injections will be needed.

How to Prevent Diabetic Retinopathy

There are several ways you can prevent diabetic retinopathy. First, you should check your blood sugar levels, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides. This will help to reduce the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.

  • Blood Sugar - Avoid foods with high levels of carbohydrates and added sugars, especially high fructose corn syrup. Your doctor can recommend certain medications to help you manage your blood glucose levels.
  • Blood Pressure - High blood pressure is common among people with diabetes and can increase the risk of developing other complications such as heart disease or stroke, which may lead to blindness if left untreated for long periods
  • Cholesterol - High cholesterol increases the chances of cardiovascular disease, which can lead to diabetic retinopathy and even blindness if left untreated for long periods
  • Triglyceride - High triglyceride levels also increase the risk for cardiovascular disease

When Should I Get My Eyes Checked For Diabetic Retinopathy?

According to the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes should have their eyes examined at least every 12 months. Experts may advise some people to have their eyes checked even more often than that. 

Here are some suggested times to get your eyes tested for diabetic retinopathy:

  • After you're diagnosed with diabetes.
  • After a change in your diabetes treatment plan. If you're following a new treatment plan, it's important to check your eyes to ensure the changes are working for you and that they aren't causing any vision problems.
  • After an eye exam. If your doctor suggests you get an eye exam, make sure you do! Regular eye exams are one of the best ways to detect retinopathy early and prevent permanent vision loss.

The following are factors that may increase your risk of developing Diabetic Retinopathy:

  • Family history of diabetic retinopathy or other eye diseases
  • Age - older adults are more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy than younger ones
  • Race/ethnicity - Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey show that higher rates of diabetic retinopathy were found in African American populations compared to Caucasian populations, although Asian Americans seem to have lower risk than both groups and Hispanics seem somewhere in between

How Do I Know If I Have Diabetic Retinopathy?

As with all medical conditions, it is essential to check your eyes regularly. In the case of diabetes, you should have a dilated eye exam every year. Your doctor may also check for diabetic retinopathy during this time.

The most common symptoms of diabetic retinopathy are:

  • Blurred vision
  • Flashes of light in the field of vision (photopsia)
  • A veil or curtain that partially blocks peripheral vision (macular edema)

November is Diabetes Awareness Month: Get Your Eyes Checked!

If you have diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends that you should be getting your eyes checked every year. 

If you have a family history of diabetes or high blood pressure, give us a call at Premier Eye Care of Eastern Idaho. Our doctors specialize in treating different diseases and conditions like retinal detachments, diabetic retinopathy, and flashes and floaters., It is essential to get regular eye exams.