Diabetic Eye Disease
What is Diabetic Retinopathy?
If you have diabetes, you are at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to vision loss. Diabetes can cause weakening of the tiny, delicate blood vessels in your retina. If you develop retinopathy, it may cause leakage or closure of capillaries (tiny blood vessels) or growth of new weak capillaries. There are two main types of diabetic retinopathy: nonproliferative retinopathy (blood vessels leak and then close) and proliferative retinopathy (new, weak blood vessels grow, or proliferate).
How is vision affected by diabetic retinopathy?
In the early stages of both types of diabetic retinopathy, you may have little or no vision loss. As the nonproliferative type develops, you may experience moderate to severe vision loss as fluid deposits and swelling occurs. With the proliferative type, abnormal new blood vessels can grow along the surface of the retina and later into the vitreous (fluid inside the eye). If these blood vessels rupture and bleed, they can cloud or blur vision, causing scarring and retinal detachment which may lead to a further decrease in vision or a total loss of vision.
Diabetic retinopathy can develop rapidly and without immediate warning signs; therefore, it is important to see your ophthalmologist regularly. If you experience cloudy or blurry vision, or black streaks, contact your ophthalmologist for an exam. By seeing your ophthalmologist once a year or more, diabetic retinopathy can be diagnosed and treated early, before your vision is damaged. Controlling your blood sugar and blood pressure, eating healthy and exercising can also slow the development of diabetic retinopathy.
Once diabetic retinopathy has been diagnosed, your ophthalmologist may recommend laser treatment. A laser beam, focused onto the diseased areas in your retina, can be used to reduce swelling, destroy closed blood vessels or seal weak vessels. If the retina already has extensive damage caused by proliferative diabetic retinopathy, your doctor may advise a vitrectomy. The surgical removal of the vitreous (fluid inside the eye) may be necessary to remove blood from the inner eye and to cut away scar tissue that may be pulling on the retina. Vitrectomy may be necessary when diabetes has severely affected vision. Your ophthalmologist can provide more detailed information about the treatment that is best for your diagnosis and explain the benefits and risks of each procedure.