What is diabetic retinopathy?
Anyone who has a diagnosis of diabetes is at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy, which is a manifestation of the diabetes in the eyes. There are two main types of diabetic retinopathy:
Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR)
This is the earlier and more common form of diabetic retinopathy. The diabetes in your body causes the blood vessels to be weak, leading to leakage of blood or fluid into the retina. Your doctor may see exudates (leakage) or small areas of bleeding in your retina. This can be anywhere from mild to severe. Vision loss can occur due to leakage or swelling in the macula (the center of the retina).
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR)
This is the more advanced form of diabetic retinopathy and occurs when new but abnormal/weak blood vessels grow inside the eye. These vessels attempt to grow in response to decreased oxygenation, but unfortunately often cause more bleeding, scarring, and loss of vision.
How is diabetic retinopathy diagnosed?
During your dilated eye exam, your ophthalmologist can see the diabetic changes in the retina. Some people with early diabetic disease are asymptomatic while others with more advanced disease may come in complaining of blurred vision. We use other tests such as OCT (optical computed tomography) and FA (fluorescein angiography), which can aid in seeing the extent of the disease and devising a treatment plan.
How is diabetic retinopathy treated?
The best treatment for diabetic disease in the eyes is prevention. You can help this by strictly controlling your blood sugars and following closely with your primary care provider. In essence, the better your blood sugars are, the less likely you are to develop the ocular complications of diabetes.
Depending on the type of disease you have, there are many treatments available. For early disease, often no treatment is necessary other than close observation. In moderate to severe cases, laser treatments, anti-VEGF injections, and surgery may be utilized to control the disease.
It is important to remember to have your eyes check at least once yearly with a dilated eye exam by an ophthalmologist. Early detection and treatment if needed is the key to preventing loss of sight.