What is diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is a dangerous eye disease that results as a complication of diabetes. It affects the blood vessels in the retina, the light sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. The retina contains the nerve cells that send signals to the brain via the optic nerve so you can see. Undiagnosed and untreated, diabetic retinopathy can cause permanent and irreversible blindness. If caught early, most complications of and vision loss from diabetic retinopathy can be prevented.
Who is at risk for diabetic retinopathy?
Everyone with diabetes is at risk for diabetic retinopathy, including women who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Almost half of those with diabetes also have some stage of diabetic retinopathy within several years after diagnosis of diabetes. The risk increases the longer you have diabetes. Studies report that after 15 years, an astounding 80% of people with diabetes show signs of diabetic retinopathy. This is why it is so important for anyone with diabetes to have a complete eye exam every year.
What causes diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is caused by high blood sugar. Uncontrolled high blood sugar damages the eyes, affecting the tiny blood vessels in the eye, causing them to leak fluid or bleed. In response, the body attempts to create a new blood supply by growing new blood vessels that can also leak and bleed. Diabetes also damages blood vessels elsewhere in the body including the kidneys and can cause diabetic neuropathy of the feet.
What other eye problems can diabetic retinopathy cause?
Diabetic retinopathy can cause some serious eye conditions including:
- Diabetic macular edema. The macula, part of the retina, swells from increased fluid in the retina causing blurry vision.
- Neovascular glaucoma. This is abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina that block fluid drainage from the eye, increasing intraocular eye pressure which results in glaucoma, and loss of vision.
- Retinal detachment. Diabetic retinopathy causes scarring on the retina due to damaged blood vessels. This results in the pulling away of the retina from the back of the eye and loss of vision. It is called a traction retinal detachment and is a medical emergency.
What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?
Usually there are no symptoms in the early stages of this disease. In the later stages the blood vessels bleed into the fluid in the eye and cause dark floaters or streaks that look like cobwebs (flashers and/or floaters). Sometimes a person will notice fluctuation in their vision including difficulty reading or seeing objects in the distance. Without treatment the bleeding can cause scarring on the retina.
How is retinal eye disease diagnosed?
At Union Square Eye Care, our eye doctors will conduct a complete eye examination (including a dilated evaluation of the retina) to pinpoint retinal diseases such as diabetic retinopathy. When indicated, the blood vessels of the eyes are further evaluated by a photographic test such as fluorescein angiography and/or optical coherence topography (OCT)
Other retinal diseases include:
- Retinal detachment is a serious condition that requires prompt treatment.
- Epiretinal membrane is a scar tissue-like membrane that grows on the macula and affects normal vision.
- Macular hole is a condition that affects central vision.
- Retinal tear is a condition that can occur when the vitreous in the center of the eye pulls away from the retina and creates a tear.
- Age-related macular degeneration is a serious condition that can lead to blindness.
Treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy
Although diabetic retinopathy often presents with no symptoms, certain signs should cause concern including persistent blurry vision, fluctuating vision or a sudden onset of new floaters. When you are diagnosed with retinal disease, it’s comforting to know that our ophthalmologists offer state-of-the-art in office treatment options.
With laser surgery, also known as panretinal photocoagulation (PRP), laser energy is used to treat the oxygen-deprived retinal tissue outside of the patient’s central vision, preventing continued vessel growth and sealing leaking vessels. Laser surgery can slow or even halt the progression of some retinal diseases. We can also address retinal vascular disease and retinal holes/tears with argon laser surgery.
Union Square Eye Care also offers the latest drug treatments for diabetic eye disease which are administered in the office by our retinal physicians and surgeons.
Anti–vascular endothelial growth factor therapy, also known as anti-VEGF therapy or anti-VEGF medication, is the use of medications that block vascular endothelial growth factor.
Prevention is the key to preserving healthy vision
The best way to minimize the possibility of complications from retinal disease is preventive care. The risks of vision loss can be reduced with periodic evaluation and care of the eyes and by maintaining good overall health. Don’t just assume your eyes are in good health.
Early diagnosis and treatment are paramount to preserving your vision, particularly when it comes to diabetic retinopathy. Call to schedule your appointment at Union Square Eye Care today. Your vision depends on it.