What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?
Retinopathy is any problem involving the retina of the eye: inflammation, injury, dysfunction, etc. Diabetic retinopathy is a retinal condition caused by uncontrolled high blood sugar levels.
How Does Diabetes Affect Your Eyes?
Diabetes is a condition in which your body either no longer produces sufficient insulin to process the sugar you consume or is no longer able to effectively use insulin produced in the body. This results in higher-than-normal levels of sugar circulating in your blood.
Overtime, high blood sugars levels can damage blood vessels throughout your body, including those in your eyes. When this happens, blood does not flow as easily through your veins and arteries. The tiny blood vessels in your eyes can become blocked and may leak blood and other fluids. This can cause swelling of the macula (diabetic macular edema) in the center of the retina, which can impact your ability to see clearly.
Your eyes may compensate for damaged blood vessels by creating new blood vessels – although these tend to be weak and also leak blood, creating additional problems. These new, abnormal blood vessels can block fluid drainage from the eye, increasing your risk of glaucoma.
Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy
The earliest stages of diabetic retinopathy usually come with zero symptoms. If there are visual impairments, these may come and go. Additional symptoms may include:
- Blurry or cloudy vision
- Difficulty seeing at night
- Wavy vision
- Dark spots
- Streaks that look like cobwebs
- Difficulty perceiving colors
Who’s at Risk
People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes both have an increased risk of developing retinopathy – with those with the former at a higher risk. Pregnant women who develop gestational diabetes are more prone to diabetic retinopathy. Having high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels in addition to diabetes also increases your risk of developing retinopathy.
When to See an Eye Doctor About Diabetic Retinopathy
It is estimated that 1 in 3 people with diabetes will develop diabetic retinopathy. If you have diabetes and experience any changes in your vision, prompt attention by an ophthalmologist is important to preserve your eyesight.
Your doctor will dilate your eyes to assess the condition of your retina. If retinopathy is suspected, additional diagnostic testing may be recommended.
The best way to prevent retinopathy is to ensure that your diabetes is under control.
Other Eye Conditions Diabetes Can Cause
Having diabetes can increase your risk of a number of eye conditions, including
- Cataracts – diabetes makes you more likely to develop cataracts at a younger age
- Glaucoma – diabetes can double your risk of developing glaucoma
If you have diabetes, you already understand the importance of monitoring your condition. Regular visits to your ophthalmologist should be incorporated into your usual healthcare regimen. For more information, call the South Florida Vision Associates ophthalmology location nearest you or request an appointment now.