What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by complications of diabetes. This eye disease can affect up to 80 percent of all patients who have had diabetes for 10 years or more, but research shows with early diagnoses and proper treatment these cases could be reduced.

Diabetic retinopathy is a widespread problem in the south and is the leading cause of blindness of people ages 45 – 65. Represented with changes in the blood vessels that serve the retina, the eye disease has four stages:

  1. Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy – in this early stage, the small blood vessels around the retina swell.
  2. Moderate Nonproliferative Retinopathy – in this stage, some blood vessels become blocked, preventing nourishing blood from reaching the cells
  3. Severe Nonproliferative Retinopathy – as the eye disease progresses, a greater number of blood vessels are blocked depriving the retina of blood.
  4. Proliferative Retinopathy – as a result of blocked vessels, the brain triggers growth of new abnormal blood vessels. The walls of the new vessels are often fragile and thin. Leaking of blood from these thin vessels results in vision loss.

Who’s at Risk of Diabetic Retinopathy?

Those at a higher risk of contracting diabetic retinopathy include individuals with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. This risk increases in diabetic women during pregnancy. As changes may be subtle, it is critical for anyone with diabetes or a family history of diabetes to receive an annual comprehensive eye exam.

Treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy

There are no treatments available for the first three stages of the eye disease. Stage 4, Proliferated Retinopathy can be treated with a type of laser eye surgery that burns parts of the retina away from the macula, ultimately shrinking the size of the abnormal blood vessels.

The most effective preventative measure for diabetics to avoid any eye problems is to control blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol.  Individuals that are not diabetic should exercise daily and eat a balanced diet.

Johnson Optometric Associates provides the best in diabetic care by recommending yearly dilated exams and retinal photography. We work closely with primary care physicians and endocrinologists by alerting them of any eye changes to help with better diabetic control.