C. Troy Allred, OD & Dr. Amanda Alves

Diabetic Retinopathy - Overview (Causes, Symptoms, & Treatments)

Eye Condition

Diabetes is a terrible illness, and its damaging reach can even extend to your vision through diabetic retinopathy. Most simply, this is a leakage of blood into the eye which can distort or permanently impair your vision.

While it usually takes years for diabetic retinopathy to become a serious problem, the majority of the population has an incredible knack for ignoring smaller problems and allowing them to quietly grow, unnoticed.

At Allred Family Eye Care, we care about your eyes; take a minute to learn about diabetic retinopathy, its causes and how you can help prevent any serious damage.

Causes of Diabetic Retinopathy

Everyone who suffers from type 1 or type 2 diabetes is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. The reason boils down to high blood sugar.

There’s a network of small blood vessels which supply blood to your brain which can be blocked by the high level of sugar in the blood. Your body will try to build new vessels, but they are often quite weak, underdeveloped and can leak.

As the problem worsens, the retina can be starved of oxygen and these small leakages can hemorrhage and severely affect your vision.  This condition is known as proliferative retinopathy and in the worst cases can lead to blindness.

Types and Symptoms

Diabetic retinopathy is one of those unfortunate conditions which shows very few early symptoms. However, an eye specialist (like our optometrists) can pick up on early signs with an eye screening. If you suffer from diabetes, you should attend a screening every 12 months. Learn more about this eye exam1.

If you notice any sudden and impactful changes to your vision, you should contact our practice straight away to get checked for diabetic retinopathy, which can be classified into two types: background and proliferative (PDR).

Background Retinopathy (NPDR)

This is also known as Non-Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy, or NPDR. There will be small bulges or lumps in the damaged blood vessels which can lead to a very small amount of bleeding and shouldn’t affect your vision much, if at all. This is the early stage of the disease.

Proliferative Diabetic Retinography

This is the stage where retina may be oxygen-starved which can cause:

  • Severe blood leakage.
  • Greatly increased pressure on the eye.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Scar tissue.
  • Moving dark spots in your vision (known as floaters).

If untreated, PDR can eventually cause permanently impaired vision or blindness.

Treatment Options

Laser Treatment

Focused lasers are used to seal off leaking blood vessels, which should halt the progression of symptoms. Scatter laser treatment can also be used, which shrinks abnormal blood vessels around the macula. Both treatments can be performed fairly simply by a retina specialist and are by far the most common treatments for halting PDR.

Eye Surgery

In some severe cases, surgery may be performed either to remove scar tissue which could lead to retinal detachment, or if a substantial amount of blood has gathered in the eye. These surgeries are usually performed under general anesthetic, with the patient able to go home within a day or so.

As with most eye diseases, diabetic retinopathy is least impactful when detected early. If you are diabetic, arrange a visit with a member of our team and come back every 12 months so we can keep an eye on you. If you’re diligent, the disease may not have any lasting impact on your vision.