Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes mellitus and is the leading reason for vision loss in diabetic patients.  In diabetic patients, high sugar (glucose) levels damages blood vessels in every organ in the body, including the retina, and results in leakage of fluid and blood from the vessel into the retina.  Accumulation of this leakage and blood causes swelling (macular edema) and can prompt the growth of new, fragile blood vessels (neovascularization). Both macular edema and neovascularization of the retina can cause symptoms including loss of central and possibly peripheral vision.

Risk Factors for Diabetic Retinopathy

Risk factors for diabetic retinopathy include increased duration of diabetes, poor diabetic control (high sugar levels) and large fluctuations in sugar levels. After 25 years of having diabetes, nearly all patients will have some evidence of diabetic retinopathy. To decrease the development of diabetic retinopathy and to slow the progression from mild to more significant disease, ophthalmologists recommend that patients keep their Hemoglobin A1c (a blood level that reflects how well blood sugars are controlled over a three month period) under 7.0.

Diabetic Retinopathy Symptoms

The onset of symptoms usually signals non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, the less severe form of the condition. Early symptoms can include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Floaters or occasional spots in the field of vision
  • Dimmed or distorted central vision

Non-Proliferative Symptoms & Diagnosis

In non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, the weakened blood vessels are beginning to affect the eye. There may be no discernible symptoms when the vessels begin to weaken. The symptoms are caused by tiny bulges in the vessels and leakage of fluid into the retina. The fluid can lead to macula swelling.

Proliferative Symptoms & Diagnosis

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy is diagnosed when the condition becomes more severe. Poor circulation decreases the oxygen to the retina. Tiny new blood vessels begin to grow into the vitreous. These vessels may leak blood and further cloud your vision.

In proliferative diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma can develop, damaging the optic nerve. Also, scar tissue may form and cause a detached retina. If unchecked, these conditions can result in severe vision loss or blindness.

Diabetic Retinopathy Treatment for Silicon Valley

There are several treatment methods to help patients maintain and/or gain vision due to diabetic macular edema or retinal neovascularization. These options include intravitreal injections (injections of a medication into the jell-like substance in the back of the eye) of a vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) inhibitor (Avastin, Lucentis and Eyela) or steroids (Ozurdex and Triamcinolone), or the use of lasers.

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of vision loss in diabetic patients. Prolonged high sugar levels in the blood deteriorate blood vessels in the eye. The complications of uncontrolled diabetes can easily result in vision loss. Even diabetics who manage their blood sugar should be examined by an ophthalmologist at least once a year. The blood vessels in the eye are extremely delicate, and while retinopathy can be managed when it is caught early, the potentially resulting blindness cannot be reversed.

All patients with diabetes should have at least an annual dilated retinal examination even in the absence of visual symptoms to ensure there are no early warning signs of diabetic retinopathy. ECSV offers treatment for diabetic retinopathy, other diabetic vision loss issues and can provide diabetic vision exams. Schedule an eye exam at ECSV today or give us a call at 408-295-3433.