What is Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease that causes blurry and distorted eyesight. It can even lead to blindness. Diabetic retinpathy often occurs in persons who have had diabetes for over 20 years.
The cause of diabetic retionpathy is diabetes. One of the complications of diabetes is the weakening of tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina. Fluid and blood leak from the weakend vessels. New vessels that grow can be distorted and then bleed. These vessels can injure the retina, leading to loss of vision.
Signs and Symtoms
In the early stage of this disease, called nonproliferative (or background) diabetic retinopathy, you have little or no vision problems. The only way to tell whether you have retinopathy is through an eye exam. The advance stage is called proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Vision problems are more pronounced with cloudiness, distortion, or loss of central vision. Blind spots or floaters may also appear. These are all caused by blood leaking from abnormal new vessels that have grown to replace those damaged by the disease.
Diagnosing Diabetic Retinopathy
To diagnose diabetic retinopathy, your eye doctor will ask about your diabetes. Then he or she will do a complete eye exam. You may have the following:
- A test of your vision using an eye chart
- A dilated eye exam. Eyedrops are used to dilate (widen) your pupils so the eye doctor can view your retina for any changes.
- A test to measure the pressure inside your eye. This is done with an instrument called a tonometer.
Keeping an Eye on Your Vision
If your eye doctor finds you don't have diabetic retinopathy, or that you have the nonproliferative type, you may not need any treatment. But your vision should definetly be monitored by your eye doctor. Regular eye exams at least once a year, or more often, may be recommended. At some of the exams, an angiography may be performed. This test uses a dye to take pictures of your retina. The images help your doctor determine whether the retinopathy has advanced and if treatment is needed. Your doctor can tell you more about this and other tests.
Treating diabetic Retinopathy
Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy usually does not require treatment. Your eye doctor will monitor any changes in the retina during regular eye exams. If you develop the proliferative type, you may have the following treatments:
- Pan retinal photocoagulation. This uses a laser to destroy abnormal blood vessels and to keep them from growing back. The laser is aimed at hundreds of tiny spots surrounding the center of the retina. Afterwards, your peripheral (side) vision will be affected, but not your central vision. Your color and night vision may also be somewhat affected.
- Vitrectomy. This is a procedure to remove the vitreous because bleeding is clouding the vitreous and obscuring vision. After your eye surgeon removes the cloudy vitreous it's replaced by a clear salt solution. Sometimes pan retinal photocoagulation is done during vitrectomy.
Your eye doctor can tell you more about the preparation and recovery aspects of these procedures. Be aware that you may need to have these treatments more than once.