What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetes retinopathy is an eye disease that can lead to loss of vision and blindness. It affects people who have diabetes. People with either diabetes 1 or 2 are at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. The longer one has diabetes and the less well-controlled their diabetes is, the higher their risk for getting diabetic retinopathy. If you have diabetes, you should go for comprehensive eye exams regularly, at least once every year.

The main way to lower your risk of getting diabetic retinopathy, if you already have diabetes, is by managing your diabetes well—by controlling your blood sugar level through dietary changes and medication.

Other factors that increase a diabetic’s risk of getting diabetic retinopathy include:

  • Duration of diabetes: the longer you have had diabetes, the greater the risk
  • Poor management of blood sugar level
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking or tobacco use

Can high blood sugar cause blurry vision?

The reason why diabetes can affect the eye is that having excessive amounts of sugar in your blood can eventually damage your retina. The retina is the part of the eye that light is refracted onto and which sends the information to your brain through the optic nerve.

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Diabetes affects blood vessels all over the body, including the small blood vessels that go to your retina. Overtime, the sugar blocks these blood vessels, which causes them to leak or bleed. Although your eye can grow new blood vessels to compensate for the blocked blood vessels, these new vessels can leak easily as they cannot develop properly.

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy

Initially, diabetic retinopathy may not cause any noticeable symptoms. However, overtime, it can eventually lead to blindness.

As diabetic retinopathy progresses, symptoms may become more apparent. Symptoms include:

  • Floaters
  • Blurry vision
  • Impaired colour vision
  • Loss of vision
  • Dark of empty spots of vision

Diabetic retinopathy typically affects both eyes.

If you experience any of the above symptoms, it is best to go see an eye doctor immediately. If you have diabetes, you should go for annual comprehensive eye exams even if you do not experience any of the above symptoms.

Treatment of diabetic retinopathy

Typically, during early stages of diabetic retinopathy, your eye doctors may just monitor how your eyes are doing every few months.

However, during later stages, treatment may be necessary to stop your vision from worsening. Treatment options include:

  • Injections of medication (anti-VEGF drugs) that can slow down diabetic retinopathy. Other medication such as corticosteroids may also help.
  • Laser treatment that stops the blood vessels going to your retina from leaking.
  • Eye surgery

Consult your eye doctor on the various treatment options available if your diabetic retinopathy has started to affect your vision.

Diabetes can increase one’s risk of developing various eye diseases other than diabetic retinopathy, such as glaucoma and retinal detachment, that can also lead to blindness. Hence, if you have diabetes, it is important to keep it under control and also to go for regular comprehensive eye exams, so that any changes to your eyes can be detected as soon as possible.