Diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease that develops because of diabetes. It occurs when the blood vessels that supply blood to the retina become damaged.
According to the National Eye Institute, it is the leading cause of blindness in the United States of America.
It is one of the most dangerous complications of diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy, if not treated, can lead to permanent vision loss.
To prevent diabetic retinopathy from progressing, you should start the treatment as soon as possible.
If you are a diabetic person or want to know more about diabetic retinopathy, keep reading.
In this article, we have put together everything that you need to know about diabetic retinopathy, right from the symptoms to its causes, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.
Diabetic Retinopathy Signs And Symptoms
If you have this condition, you’re unlikely to experience symptoms in the early stages. Diabetes retinopathy symptoms appear after there is severe damage inside the eye.
During the later stages of this condition, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Blurred vision
- Floating objects in the vision
- Dark spots in the vision
- Poor color vision
If you start noticing these symptoms, get medical help right away.
What Causes Diabetic Retinopathy?
Uncontrolled high blood glucose levels cause diabetic retinopathy. Over time, the excess sugar in your blood can block the blood vessels carrying blood to the retina.
To compensate for the blood loss, your body produces new blood vessels. These formed blood vessels are fragile and sensitive and hence, leak blood into the retina.
The retina is a thin layer of tissue that is responsible for creating images in the brain. When there is no blood supply to the retina, there is no image formation, which leads to vision problems or permanent vision loss.
What Are The Stages Of Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy types/stages come under two categories according to the severity of the damage to the retina.
These are — Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) and proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR)
- Non-proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy
This stage is the early onset of the disease. The blood vessels that supply blood to the retina become weak, which leads to the leaking of the blood into the retina. This leaking can cause swelling of the macula (A part of the retina).
It is further divided into 3 stages:
- Mild non-proliferative,
- Moderate non-proliferative
- Severe non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy.
- Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy
This is the fourth and the advanced stage of the disease. At this stage, new blood vessels form in the retina. Because of their fragile nature, they leak blood into the retina that causes irreversible vision loss.
Here’s what happens during each stage.
- Mild non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy
During this stage of retinopathy, vessels in the retina become swollen, causing small areas of swelling. These small areas of swelling are micro-aneurysms.
At this stage, a small amount of fluid starts to leak from the delicate blood vessels, causing swelling.
If you have mild non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, at least one micro-aneurysm will be present in your eye.
It is crucial to notice subtle findings and locate the precise location of micro-aneurysms to watch how the disease is progressing.
- Moderate non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy
This second stage causes blockage of the blood vessels. The swelling in the blood vessels increases at this stage, compromising the blood flow to the retina.
The micro-aneurysm formed during the first stage may burst that can cause hemorrhages.
People with modern non-proliferative have a 12-27% risk of developing PDR. Hence, it is a must to get an eye check-up done every 6-8 months for these individuals.
- Severe non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy
During the third stage of non-proliferative retinopathy, blockages in the blood vessels worsen, so that some parts of the retina no longer receive blood.
Without an inadequate supply of blood, no new blood vessels can form, and hence, the disease progresses faster.
The absence of new blood vessels is an indicator of the disease progression into the final stage – proliferative diabetic retinopathy.
Patients with severe non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy are 52% more likely to get PDR within a year.
- Proliferative diabetic retinopathy
Proliferative retinopathy is the fourth and final stage of diabetic retinopathy. A new set of abnormal and fragile blood vessels begins to sprout in the retina at this stage of the disease. Consequently, they tend to leak blood, leading to vision loss and blindness.
Due to the fragility of the newly formed blood vessels and their vulnerability to fluid leakage, patients may also experience other problems like blurriness and a reduced field of vision.
Diabetic Retinopathy Diagnosis
How is diabetic retinopathy diagnosed? Through the following tests.
- Dilated eye test
It is the most common eye test to diagnose diabetic retinopathy. Your eye doctor can ask you to take a dilated eye exam. For this, the doctor will apply eye drops to dilate your pupil. It will allow the doctor to get a good look at the inside of your eye.
- Optical coherence tomography (OCT)
OCT is a non-invasive and rapid tool for the detection of diabetic retinopathy. It produces cross-sectional images of the retina with high resolution, revealing its thickness. It also tells the doctor how much fluid has accumulated in the eye.
- Fluorescein angiography
For Fluorescence angiography, the doctor places eye drops to dilate the pupil, just like in the dilated eye test. In addition, a dye called fluorescein is injected into the patient’s arm.
When the dye circulates in the eye, it produces an accurate eye picture. The dye stains the abnormal blood vessels, thus indicating which blood vessels are weak.
Diabetic Retinopathy Prevention
The best way to lower your risk of diabetic retinopathy is to keep your diabetes in check. Lowering your blood sugar levels and leading a healthy lifestyle can cut your chances of acquiring diabetic retinopathy.
Another way to prevent this disease is to get your routine eye check-ups done.
Diabetic retinopathy screening is the most effective way to detect retinopathy early. Fundus photography does the job.
Fundus photography produces images that reveal fine details of the retina, thus helping with the screening.
How Is Diabetic Retinopathy Treated?
Diabetic retinopathy treatment options are few if you get diagnosed with later stages of retinopathy.
Your eye doctor will recommend the treatment based on the severity of the condition.
- Watchful waiting
If the condition gets detected early, the doctor will monitor the changes in your eye over some time. It is called watchful waiting.
- Diabetic retinopathy laser treatment
For advanced stages of this condition, laser treatment is the only treatment available: Here are the options:
- Photocoagulation surgery
By using targeted lasers, the doctor shrinks blood vessels in the eye and seals leaks from abnormal blood vessels.
It may stop the blood vessels from leaking into the retina.
- Scatter photocoagulation
It reduces the risk of blindness by burning hundreds of tiny holes into the eye twice or more.
- Focal photocoagulation
A laser targets specific leaky vessels in the macula so that swelling in the retina cannot worsen.
- Diabetic retinopathy vitrectomy
In vitreous surgery, the doctor removes the scar tissue and cloudy fluid from the eye’s vitreous fluid.
- Diabetic retinopathy medications
If you get diagnosed with proliferative diabetic retinopathy, you will need prompt treatment. For this, there are certain medicines available.
- Anti-VEGF drugs
VEGF is a protein that causes blood vessels in the retina to leak and swell. Anti VEGF drugs help combat this action by blocking this protein, thus protecting your vision.
Corticosteroids are drugs that reduce the swelling in the eye. These are available in the form of eye drops or injections.
- Home remedies
There are many home remedies available to treat diabetic retinopathy. Some of them include.
- Amla juice – It is high in Vitamin C, which boosts your vision.
- Fennel seeds – Has many nutrients that can slow the progression of vision loss.
- Fenugreek seeds – It has nutrients that can cure diabetic retinopathy.
- Sandalwood powder – Has properties that can provide pain relief and reduce inflammation.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- What is the first sign of diabetic retinopathy?
Micro-aneurysms are the first clinical signs of diabetic retinopathy. Fundus photography detects them with high-resolution images of the retina.
- Is diabetic retinopathy reversible?
No, but you can control disease progression with prompt treatment and early detection.
- What is the Diabetic retinopathy laser treatment recovery time?
After the laser treatment, you may have blurred vision for 2 days but you can resume normal activities after 2 or 3 days.
You must now be aware of everything about diabetic retinopathy. It is a life-threatening disease that can cause permanent vision loss, if not treated.
Managing your diabetes by keeping the blood glucose levels low, is the best way to prevent diabetic retinopathy.
If you are a diabetic person, you need to get regular eye check-ups done to slow the progression of this condition.
Got more questions? Drop them in the comments.