Diagnosing and Treating Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease that often occurs in people who have been diagnosed with diabetes. It is a complication of diabetes that affects the eyes, and more specifically, the blood vessels that provide blood and nutrients to keep a part of the eye called the retina healthy.


The retina is an area of cells found at the back of the eye that are very sensitive to light. When light enters and passes through the eye, it is received by the retina, which turns it into electrical signals sent up to the brain which tell us what we can see. For the retina to remain healthy and functional, it requires a constant supply of oxygenated blood, and this is delivered to it via a complex network of blood vessels.


Diabetes occurs when the levels of sugar found in the blood are too high or too low. Most people with diabetes find that their blood sugar levels persistently dip into the ‘too high’ category unless their diabetes is carefully controlled through diet and/or medication. People who experience persistently high blood sugar levels for a number of months or years will find that these levels cause damage to the blood vessels, and this can affect blood flow to the retina.


Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

In most cases, diabetic retinopathy develops slowly over a number of months and years, and this means that the symptoms of the condition are harder to spot until they start to significantly affect the quality of your vision. Nevertheless, there are symptoms associated with diabetic retinopathy, including:


  • Gradually worsening vision

  • Shapes floating in your vision

  • Blurred or patchy vision

  • Redness around the eyes

  • Eye pain

  • Sudden vision loss


Since these symptoms can also be indicative of other eye diseases, it is essential that you speak to your eye doctor to obtain a diagnosis. This may involve several different tests, including imaging of your retina and assessing the quality of the blood vessels. After this, they will be able to recommend the best treatment for you.


Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy

As part of the diagnostic process, your eye doctor will determine what stage your diabetic retinopathy is at. This is important since the condition is progressive and will get worse without treatment. The stage that you are at may also impact which treatment you are offered.


Stage 1: Background Retinopathy

This is the earliest stage, where your eye doctor will be able to visualize tiny bulges in the blood vessels serving the retina. These may bleed slightly but shouldn’t really impact the quality of your vision. This is the ideal stage to treat your diabetic retinopathy.


Step 2: Pre-Proliferative Retinopathy

This stage sees larger bulges developing the blood vessels and a great degree of bleeding into the retina. Treatment at this stage can also prevent any permanent damage to your vision.


Step 3: Proliferative Retinopathy

Bleeding into the retina starts to cause scarring, more significantly affecting the quality of your vision and potentially causing irreparable damage.


Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy

Preventing diabetic retinopathy is far better than trying to treat damage that has already occurred. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to reduce your risk of developing this complication. The most obvious is to make sure that your diabetes is under control so that your blood sugar levels remain healthy and stable. Controlling diabetes usually involves a combination of diet management and taking medications to keep your blood sugar levels under control. Your eye doctor will also probably advise that you:


  • Monitor and control your cholesterol levels

  • Maintain a healthy weight

  • Quit smoking

  • Attend regular diabetic retinopathy screening appointments when invited


If you are already suffering from diabetic retinopathy, there are a few different treatments that you may be offered. These include:


  • Laser treatment to stop or slow the leakage of blood and fluid in the eye.

  • Laser treatment to shrink the abnormal blood vessels and prevent them from leaking further blood and fluid into the retina.

  • Injecting medication into the eye to stop the growth of new blood vessels and decrease the accumulation of fluid.

  • A vitrectomy, which is a procedure to remove blood from the vitreous fluid inside the eye, as well as any scar tissue that is pulling on the retina.



If you are concerned about diabetic retinopathy, visit North Shore Eye Health and Wellness in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. Call (262) 421-4412 to schedule an appointment today.

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