Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes involving the blood vessels that nourish the retina of the eye, and the leading cause of blindness among adults. Approximately 25% of current diabetics have some form of the disease. Left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can result in severe visual loss, including blindness. Since there is no pain or other external symptoms, changes in the retina can go unnoticed unless detected by an eye examination by an eye specialist. All people diagnosed with diabetes are at risk.
Diabetic retinopathy is a serious condition that causes vision problems in people who have diabetes. Over time, blood vessels in the retina become damaged. This leads to blurry vision and can potentially cause blindness if left untreated.
The good news is that detecting the condition is possible with a professional eye examination, and some therapies can help prevent serious symptoms once you know you have it. One of the best ways to keep your eyesight safe is to learn about diabetic retinopathy symptoms and find answers.
What Causes Diabetic Retinopathy?
High blood sugar levels lead to the blockage of the blood vessels that feed to the retina. As the blood vessels lose nourishment, the eye attempts to grow new blood vessels, which don’t develop correctly and tend to leak.
The more common form of diabetic retinopathy is nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, or NPDR. In this instance, the weakened walls of the retina experience bulges caused by leaked fluids and blood. This causes nerve fibers to swell and bring about more severity.
Advanced diabetic retinopathy is the advanced stage of NPDR that sees the new blood vessels begin to form and leak, causing the eye to try to save itself. Scar tissue begins to form and may cause the retina to detach from the back of the eye, causing pressure, and eventually resulting in glaucoma.
Who Is at Risk for Diabetic Eye Disease?
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetics are at risk of developing this condition. It typically occurs in those who have poorly controlled their blood sugar over long periods of time. According to the National Eye Institute, over 40% of Americans who have diabetes develop diabetic retinopathy. That means almost 1 out of 2 diabetics in Albuquerque, NM, may be at risk.
If you have diabetes, it’s urgent to schedule an eye exam to look for it. That way, you can have peace of mind and get expert assistance managing any symptoms if needed. Women who are pregnant and have diabetes are at especially high risk for this type of complication, so be sure to let your eye doctor and OB/GYN know if this is your case.
What Are the Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy?
Some people don’t notice any symptoms at first. That doesn’t mean the condition is harmless at this stage, however. Diabetic retinopathy can quietly be progressing in the background, causing damage that eventually leads to blurry vision, diabetes complications, or worse.
If you notice any of the following symptoms, it’s important to schedule an appointment with one of our vision specialists right away:
- Constant blurry vision
- Dark areas or blank spaces in vision
- Vision that often changes from blurry to clear
- Colors that look faded
- Dark spots or floating particles in the field of vision
- Loss of vision
The reason it’s so important to detect diabetic eye disease in its early stages is that it’s often possible to prevent severe symptoms from appearing. Also, this condition can lead to other serious eye problems, including glaucoma and retinal detachment. Having the help of an eye professional in Albuquerque is essential for avoiding these complications.
How Can You Prevent Diabetic Eye Disease?
As soon as you discover you have diabetes, taking extra care of your vision should be an important part of your treatment plan. The better you control your diabetes, the less risk you have of serious diabetic retinopathy symptoms. Here are several things you can do:
- Keep blood sugar under control
- Live an active life
- Eat nutritious foods
- Avoid or stop smoking
- Follow your doctor’s recommendations for diabetes medicine
- Manage high blood pressure
- Stick to a six-month schedule for eye examinations
- Call a vision specialist right away if you notice blurry vision symptoms
High blood sugar and high blood pressure are the main culprits in diabetic retinopathy, so managing them can help you protect your eyesight for a long time. The reason you need to schedule regular eye exams, even if you don’t have any symptoms at all, is that our team can catch diabetic eye disease before you notice it personally.
What Treatments Are Available for Diabetic Retinopathy?
One of the most important therapies for diabetic retinopathy focuses on prevention. Controlling your diabetes can have a large effect on your eyesight. Sometimes, it can even restore vision that has already been affected. At the very least, healthy habits can slow down the progression of blurry vision diabetes problems and help you avoid blindness.
Depending on how advanced diabetic retinopathy is, your doctor may recommend other treatments:
- Specialized eye medication: One option for advanced diabetic eye disease is to use anti-VEGF medicines. VEGF is a type of growth protein that causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in the eye. This is bad for people who have diabetic retinopathy. Taking an anti-VEGF medication can help to reduce swelling in the retina and keep more severe vision symptoms at bay.
- Laser surgery: Another long-lasting treatment for diabetic retinopathy is laser surgery. This treatment can help shrink blood vessels in the retina, seal off any leaking blood vessels, and keep them from growing. This reduces swelling in the retina and helps clear up blurry or blocked areas of vision.
- Advanced eye surgery: This type of surgery is generally only used when diabetic retinopathy has advanced significantly (or when you have other conditions such as cataracts at the same time). An eye doctor performs a vitrectomy, a procedure that removes some of the vitreous material from the eye, along with any scar tissue, blood, cataracts, or foreign objects blocking vision.
Before recommending any treatments, our team in Albuquerque performs a careful eye exam to see how far diabetic retinopathy has progressed in your case. Choosing the right treatment can prevent blindness from appearing, potentially restore lost vision, and help you enjoy clear vision again.
What Should You Do Next?
Everyone who has diabetes should request a comprehensive eye exam at Southwest Eyecare in Albuquerque, NM, as the first step in prevention. This type of in-depth vision check dilates your eyes and allows us to see blood vessels and other eye surfaces more clearly. It’s not painful, and the dilation wears off in 20-30 minutes.