Diabetic retinopathy, the most common diabetic eye disease, occurs when blood vessels in the retina change. Sometimes these vessels swell and leak fluid or even close off completely. In other cases, abnormal new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina.
When blood sugar levels are too high for extended periods of time, it can damage capillaries (tiny blood vessels) that supply blood to the retina. Over time, these blood vessels begin to leak fluids and fats, causing edema (swelling). Eventually these vessels can close off, called ischemia.
You can have diabetic retinopathy and not be aware of it, since the early stages of diabetic retinopathy often don't have symptoms. As the disease progresses, diabetic retinopathy symptoms may include:
- Spots, dots or cobweb-like dark strings floating in your vision (called floaters)
- Blurred vision
- Vision that changes periodically from blurry to clear
- Blank or dark areas in your field of vision
- Poor night vision
- Colors appear washed out or different
- Vision loss
Diabetic retinopathy symptoms usually affect both eyes.
Who is at risk?
People with diabetes are at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes is a disease that affects the body's ability to produce or use insulin effectively to control blood sugar levels.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The only way to detect diabetic retinopathy and to monitor its progression is through a comprehensive eye exam.
The best treatment for diabetic retinopathy is to prevent it. Strict control of your blood sugar will significantly reduce the long-term risk of vision loss. Treatment usually won't cure diabetic retinopathy nor does it usually restore normal vision, but it may slow the progression of vision loss. Without treatment, diabetic retinopathy progresses steadily from minimal to severe stages. Treatment options include:
- Laser surgery
- Vitrectomy surgery
- Medication injections
Diseases of the retina
Retinal Tears or Holes
The retina is the inner layer of the eye that senses light and helps you to see. If the retina tears, it can separate from the back wall of the eye. This is called a detached retina, and it can cause you to lose sight.
Most retinal tears can be treated with the argon or krypton laser, if they are found before the retina detaches. The laser helps bond the retina to the wall of the eye, preventing a retinal detachment. If retinal detachment has already occurred, the laser may be used to surgically repair the detachment.
The macula is the small, central area of the retina that allows us to see fine details clearly. Macular degeneration affects your central or reading vision. Most people have "dry" macular degeneration, which cannot be helped by laser surgery.
A few people have "wet" macular degeneration. Abnormal blood vessels cause bleeding and scarring of the macula. In certain cases, these people may be treated with the argon or krypton laser. The laser seals the blood vessels to prevent further damage.