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Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that results from damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye (retina). At first, diabetic retinopathy may cause no symptoms or only mild vision problems. Eventually, however, diabetic retinopathy can result in blindness. Diabetic retinopathy can develop in anyone who has type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes. The longer you have diabetes, and the less controlled your blood sugar is, the more likely you are to develop diabetic retinopathy. To protect your vision, take prevention seriously. Start by carefully controlling your blood sugar level and scheduling yearly eye exams.
Complications of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy involves the abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina. Complications can lead to serious vision problems:
Causes of Diabetic Retinopathy
Too much sugar in your blood can damage the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) that nourish the retina. This can result in diabetic retinopathy and vision loss. Elevated blood sugar levels can also affect the eyes' lenses. With high levels of sugar over long periods of time, the lenses can swell, providing another cause of blurred vision.
Diabetic retinopathy is usually classified as early or advanced.
Signs & Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy
It's possible to have diabetic retinopathy and not know it. In fact, it's uncommon to have symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy.
As the condition progresses, diabetic retinopathy symptoms may include:
Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes.
Diagnosis of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy is best diagnosed with a dilated eye exam. For this exam, your eye doctor will place drops in your eyes that make your pupils open widely for several hours. This allows your doctor to get a better view inside your eye. The drops may cause your close vision to be blurry until they wear off.
During the exam, your eye doctor will look for:
In addition, your eye doctor may:
As part of the eye exam, your doctor may do a retinal photography test called fluorescein angiography. First, your doctor will dilate your pupils and take pictures of the inside of your eyes. Then your doctor will inject a special dye into your arm. More pictures will be taken as the dye circulates through your eyes. Your doctor can use the images to pinpoint blood vessels that are closed, broken down or leaking fluid.
Optical coherence tomography
Your eye doctor also may request an optical coherence tomography (OCT) exam. This imaging test provides cross-sectional images of the retina that show the thickness of the retina, which will help determine whether fluid has leaked into retinal tissue. Later, OCT exams can be used to monitor how treatment is working.
Treatments of Diabetic Retinopathy
Treatment for diabetic retinopathy depends on the type of diabetic retinopathy you have, its severity and how well it may have already responded to previous treatments.
Early diabetic retinopathy
If you have nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, you may not need treatment right away. However, your eye doctor will closely monitor your eyes to determine if you need treatment. And, if you haven't been maintaining good blood sugar control, you'll need to work with your diabetes doctor (endocrinologist) to find out what additional steps you need to take to better control your diabetes. The good news is that when diabetic retinopathy is in the mild or moderate stage, good blood sugar control can slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy.
Advanced diabetic retinopathy
If you have proliferative diabetic retinopathy, you'll need prompt surgical treatment. Sometimes surgery is also recommended for severe nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy. Depending on the specific problems with your retina, options may include:
Prevention of Diabetic Retinopathy
If you have diabetes, reduce your risk of getting diabetic retinopathy by doing the following:
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