There aren’t any real signs when it comes to early diabetic retinopathy, so patients are just unaware of the negative effects of diabetes on their eyes. However, as this condition advances, the following signs become evident:
• Vision may go in and out of focus and become blurred;
• People may complain on spots, specks and floaters;
• Others notice difficulty seeing during nights;
• Patients start complaining on the blockage of vision or streaks if any big hemorrhage is inside their eyes.
Number one cause of developing diabetic retinopathy is high blood sugar levels and uncontrolled diabetes. Severity of this condition is closely linked to sugar levels in the blood. The retina is a light-sensitive layer in the back of your eyes, and it has a great supply of blood vessels. If your blood sugar levels are too high, blood vessels are weak, so the fluid and blood inside them leak out into a retina. New blood vessels start growing, but they may lead fluid and are too fragile, thus, causing a retina to swell and lose oxygen and important nutrients. This phenomenon also causes possible blindness and vision loss.
1. Pregnancy. Pregnant women with gestational or standard diabetes have a high risk of developing unwanted complications.
2. Diabetes. Patients with diabetes have a higher risk of suffering from diabetic retinopathy. The longer they have this condition, the more likely they will develop it.
3. Hypertension. People with this health problem face a higher risk of having diabetic retinopathy.
4. Ethnicity. Being of African-American and Hispanic heritage puts people in a high-risk group for having this disease.
5. High cholesterol levels. This factor also increases a risk of diabetic retinopathy.
This condition progresses through its 4 basic stages:
1. Mild non-proliferative. Minor swelling is evident in blood vessels.
2. Moderate non-proliferative. Blood vessels lead fluid and become blocked.
3. Severe non-proliferative. The retina loses oxygen and essential nutrients.
4. Proliferative. Abnormal blood vessels start growing, but they leak and are weak, thus, leading to retinal detachments, glaucoma and blindness.
It’s necessary to visit qualified ophthalmologists or optometrists for complete eye examination every year to diagnose diabetic retinopathy. During this examination, doctors administer eye drops to dilate your pupils, thus, visualizing the entire retina with the macula, optic nerve and blood vessels. They also use special microscopes and magnifying lenses to closely examine the macula and optic nerve for any diabetic eye problems. Sometimes, fluorescein angiograms or special dye-injection tests are used to diagnose certain problematic areas more accurately.
In moderate stages of this condition doctors may prescribe a focal laser procedure to reduce swelling in blood vessels. In severe stages of diabetic retinopathy, scattered laser treatments are used to decrease leaky blood vessels and eliminate the factors that lead to this condition. This option may also lead to the loss of night and peripheral vision, but it helps patients prevent severe blindness from occurring. Doctors perform a vitrectomy if there’s any significant bleeding in the eye cavity. It removes the vitreous fluid replaced with a clear one.
The growth of abnormal new blood vessels may result in further health complications, such as:
1. Traction retinal detachment. New blood vessels are followed by growing scar tissues that shrink and pull a retina away from the back of the eye.
2. Vitreous hemorrhage. New blood vessels can start bleeding into a vitreous. In serious cases, blood may fill the vitreous cavity completely, thus, blocking vision.
3. Neovascular glaucoma. Abnormal blood vessels can grow on your iris, thus, interfering with the normal fluid flow out of your eyes.