What You Need to Know
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes mellitus; it affects people who have prolonged
diabetes mellitus. It is characterized by progressive damage to the retina of the eye. Typically,
what happens in diabetic retinopathy is that high sugar content in the blood destroys the blood
vessels that supply nutrient to the eyes. This destruction of vessels causes fluids and blood to
leak into the eyes, resulting in blurred vision.
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of visual disturbances in people who have
diabetes mellitus. In most cases, diabetes retinopathy is not diagnosed until visual loss/ blindness
occurs and which is why doctors advise diabetic patients to undertake a comprehensive dilated
eye examination every year.
What Are The Symptoms?
In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, you may have no symptoms. Symptoms often appear
at later stages, when the disease has progressed to an extent where it begins to affect the vision.
When diabetic retinopathy becomes symptomatic, you may notice blurry vision, color blindness,
floating spots in the field of vision and total vision loss.
Who is at risk?
The following may put you at a higher risk for diabetic retinopathy:
– The longer you have diabetes
– Uncontrolled diabetes
– African- American, Hispanic or Native American heritage
– Smoking or using tobacco
– Have high cholesterol or high blood pressure
How is Diabetic Retinopathy Treated?
If total vision loss/ blindness has occurred, nothing can be done to reverse or treat the visual loss
caused by diabetic retinopathy. But if the disease is diagnosed in due time; during the early stage,
several treatment modalities could be considered.
The first thing that to do would be to control the blood sugar levels, blood pressure and blood
cholesterol levels. Blood sugar, hypertension, and cholesterol levels can be controlled by
adhering to the diet modification and exercise regimen recommended by your doctor or
nutritionist. Controlling these parameters can cause some of the visual functions to return
Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) and steroids are medications that help to
reduce swelling in the retina, thereby improving vision. They are usually injected directly into
the affected eye.
Surgical procedures that are used to treat diabetic retinopathy include laser surgery and
vitrectomy. Laser surgery is used to repair damaged blood vessels and to shrink new blood
vessels that grew as a result of the disease. Shrinking and repairing of these vessels reduces
retinal swelling and improves vision. Vitrectomy is a procedure that helps to drain blood, fluid,
and gel from the eyes. Drainage of these substances allows light rays to focus correctly on the
retina, therefore improving vision.