Saving Your Vision: Diabetic Retinopathy

Featured Image Diabetes Awareness

November is National Diabetes Awareness month.

If you have diabetes, take a few minutes to learn about diabetic retinopathy and how you can take steps to help keep your eyes healthy.

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision impairment and blindness among working-age adults in the U.S. It occurs when high blood glucose levels damage the blood vessels at the back of the eye causing them to become weak and leaky and damage the retina.

If not found and treated early, diabetic retinopathy can cause permanent vision loss. That’s why it is important to manage your diabetes and stay alert to the early signs and symptoms of diabetic retinopathy.

Types of Diabetic Retinopathy

There are two main types of diabetic retinopathy—NPDR (non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy) and PDR (proliferative diabetic retinopathy). The “proliferative” refers to new blood vessel growth, so in non-proliferative, there is not yet new blood vessel growth.   

NPDR is the early stage of diabetic retinopathy. At this stage, high glucose levels have weakened the blood vessels and, in time, may cause bulges in the weakened vessels (microaneurysms) that may leak fluid into the retina and the leakage may swell the macula or some blood vessels may begin to close. So this is an ongoing disease cycle that can be slowed or stopped if caught early.

PDR is the more advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy. The NPDR has weakened the blood vessels or closed them, so new blood vessels have grown in an attempt to supply oxygen to the retina, but these new vessels are fragile, and they leak and damage the retina. 

PDR can lead to vitreous hemorrhage, traction retinal detachment, or neovascular glaucoma.

Stay Alert

Anyone with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, or women who have gestational diabetes during pregnancy, can develop diabetic retinopathy. The risk increases when blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels are not under control.

In the early stages diabetic retinopathy may not have symptoms, so it’s important to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam once a year. That way diabetic retinopathy can be diagnosed and treated before symptoms appear.   

Symptoms that indicate diabetic retinopathy has progressed are:

  • Blurry vision
  • Vision that goes from blurry to clear
  • Increased number of floaters
  • Poor night vision
  • Spots or blank areas in your central vision
  • Colors appear faded

Diabetic Retinopathy Treatment

The best treatment happens before you develop symptoms. Strict control of your blood sugar will significantly reduce your risk of vision loss from diabetic retinopathy. If you have high blood pressure and kidney problems, make sure those are kept under control too.

Injections in the eye of anti-VEGF medication can stop the growth of new blood vessels. VEGF stands for vascular endothelial growth factor, and it is a signal protein your body produces that stimulates new blood vessel formation, but the new vessels are weak and leaking vessels that damage your eyes, and anti-VEGF injections will stop that abnormal blood vessel growth.

Laser surgery and vitrectomy are other treatments for advanced PDR. But the most important thing to remember if you have diabetes, is that control of your blood sugar and early diagnosis and treatment of diabetic retinopathy are the best protections against vision loss.

If you would like to schedule an appointment, please call us (877) 245.2020.

Nader Moinfar, M.D., M.P.H.
Retina Specialist
Orlando, FL

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