About Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy occurs in patients who have diabetes mellitus. Individuals with both Type 1 and Type 2 can develop this condition. As one of the biggest causes of blindness in men and women aged 18 – 65 years, diabetic retinopathy occurs when diabetes causes damage to the small blood vessels that make up the retina (the tissue that sits toward the back of the eye). In its earlier stages, patients might not even see a decline in their vision. Despite this, diabetic retinopathy is a progressive condition and is generally worsened by poor blood sugar control. This disease occurs in four stages:
- Mild Non-proliferative Retinopathy: In this earlier phase, the dilation of tiny blood vessels happens, which leads to thin-walled regions of "pouching." These areas are prone to leakage.
- Moderate Non-proliferative Retinopathy: During this stage of diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels are blocked and start to leak.
- Severe Non-proliferative Retinopathy: A rise in leakages and blockages can result in a reduction in the downstream blood supply. Swelling occurs during this stage, and signals that encourage new vessel growth are emitted.
- Proliferative Retinopathy: This is the most advanced phase of diabetic retinopathy. During this stage, the retina starts to develop inefficient, wispy blood vessels, which are often fragile and irregular. They emerge on the surface of the retina and into the vitreous cavity toward the back portion of the eye.
At Wang Vision Institute, we are able to diagnose women and men with diabetic retinopathy. If you are diagnosed with this condition, we will then pair you with the right specialist to ensure that your eye health is restored.
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Although diabetic retinopathy is a serious condition, it typically does not cause any notable symptoms to manifest until it has progressed to the proliferative stage. This is why it's vital for patients with diabetes to stay on top of their eye health and receive yearly eye exams in which we dilate the pupils to carefully look for any signs. Some symptoms you may notice in the later stage of the condition are:
- Reduced color vision
- Reduced vision acuity
- Seeing floaters
- Having clouded or distorted vision
If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy in the proliferative stage may lead to serious vision loss or even blindness. Eye hemorrhages may occur in patients with this condition. The first few spots may fade without treatment, but bleeding can reoccur and result in severely blurred vision.
The primary cause of diabetic retinopathy is unmanaged blood sugar levels. Allowing your blood sugar to spike can cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina, leading them to swell, develop blockages, and bleed. Anyone with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes is at risk to develop this condition. For this reason, it's essential that patients with diabetes continue to receive yearly eye examinations so our doctors can monitor any signs or symptoms of the disease. Roughly 40 – 50% of people diagnosed with diabetes are in some stage of diabetic retinopathy.
Pregnant women with gestational diabetes may also be at risk of developing the condition. To protect their vision and ensure their eye health, pregnant women should receive a dilated pupil examination at their earliest convenience. They may receive one or several of these assessments throughout the course of pregnancy to ensure their health.
WHAT ARE MY Options?
Diabetic retinopathy is often diagnosed during a routine eye exam that consists of:
- A visual acuity test using an eye chart
- Dilated eye exam that utilizes drops to dilate the pupil, allowing our doctors to examine the retina
- Fluorescein angiography, during which a specific dye is administered into the arm and images are taken as the dye passes through the vessels of the retina
If you are diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, a member of our team will work to assess the disease's stage and go over your options. We will then refer you to a specialist who regularly treats patients with diabetic retinopathy and other retina conditions to ensure that you receive the comprehensive care that you deserve.
Diabetic retinopathy FAQs
How is diabetic retinopathy diagnosed?
Diabetic retinopathy can be diagnosed after an eye exam at Wang Vision Institute. Our eye surgeons in Nashville will learn about your health history with diabetes, check for symptoms, and perform certain tests to assess your eye health. We encourage patients to come in for yearly eye examinations (or as often as recommended) to catch diabetic retinopathy before it becomes an issue.
What are the risk factors of diabetic retinopathy?
High blood sugar, high cholesterol, and smoking are all common risk factors of diabetic retinopathy. And, of course, anyone with diabetes is also at risk. This is why it's essential to keep track of your blood sugar levels and listen to your doctor's advice.
When should I visit Wang Vision Institute?
While symptoms are not noticeable at first, they can become apparent if you don't maintain your blood sugar levels. Diabetic retinopathy symptoms include blind spots, blurry or double vision, and a sudden increase in eye floaters. It's important that you recognize symptoms early and call right away if you notice any changes in your vision.
STAY ON TOP OF YOUR EYE HEALTH
Anyone diagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes is possibly at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy in the future, especially if their diabetes is uncontrolled. While this condition can be avoided by staying on top of their eye health and blood sugar levels, patients who are diagnosed with the disease will require immediate treatment. At Wang Vision Institute, we carefully monitor diabetic patients during their comprehensive eye examination to keep an eye out for any potential signs of diabetic retinopathy. If you haven't been to the eye doctor in a while, contact our Nashville, TN office to schedule an appointment with one of our skilled optometrists or ophthalmologists.