Retinopathy Caused by Diabetes
Wow, time flies! Can you believe the year is almost over? November is World Diabetes Month, a time to support those with this chronic condition. One of the ways we can do that is by taking care of our eyesight, which is especially important for diabetics.
Did you know that diabetes is one of the leading causes of vision loss?
Diabetes can damage the blood vessels in your eyes, harming the retina at the back of your eye. The retina converts light into signals for your brain. If the retina is damaged, it can cause blurry vision, blind spots, or even blindness. This condition is called Diabetic Retinopathy, and it affects about one-third of people with diabetes.
Diabetic Retinopathy is not a disability, but it can lead to blindness if left untreated. However, managing blood sugar levels regularly and taking prescription medication can help slow or reverse its progression.
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What are the signs you should look out for?
During the early stages of Diabetic Retinopathy, there may be no signs or symptoms, but as it progresses, you may experience any of these:
- Spots or dark strings floating in your vision (floaters)
- Blurred vision
- Fluctuating vision
- Dark or empty areas in your vision
- Vision loss
Can you reverse Diabetic Retinopathy?
There are several ways to slow or possibly reverse the progression of Diabetic Retinopathy, according to the American Optometric Association. Let us have a look to see what they recommend:
- Manage blood sugar levels regularly
- Take prescription medication
- Eat a healthy diet
- Control hypertension
- Avoid smoking and alcohol
- Try not to miss routine eye exams, as these enable your eye doctor to monitor your condition and treatment.
The four stages of progression
As time passes, with consistently elevated blood sugar levels, individuals may experience alterations in their retinas that manifest in these four stages:
- Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy: Minor damage affects some parts of the retina at this stage.
- Moderate Nonproliferative Retinopathy: Damage becomes more extensive, with some of the blood vessels in the retina at risk of swelling and blockage. This reduces blood flow and oxygen supply, leading to increased vision loss.
- Severe Nonproliferative Retinopathy: Many blood vessels become blocked, prompting the retina to grow new, yet fragile and leaky blood vessels to try and compensate.
- Proliferative Retinopathy: In this advanced stage, new blood vessels grow into the vitreous gel of the eye. These vessels can bleed and cause scar tissue, which may pull on the retina and potentially detach it from the eye wall, resulting in blindness or severe vision impairment.
How to Diagnose Diabetic Retinopathy
When experiencing a typical appointment, here’s what to expect:
- Pupil Dilation: Your eye doctor will start by placing drops in your eyes to widen your pupils. It makes it easier to examine the inside and outside of your eyes. These drops might briefly blur your near vision, but the effect will wear off after a few hours.
- Ophthalmoscope Examination: Using a specialized tool called an ophthalmoscope, your optometrist will carefully inspect your eyes, looking for any signs of damage or abnormalities in the retina, such as swelling, bleeding, or the growth of new blood vessels.
- Fluorescein Angiography: Sometimes, fluorescein angiography is used to capture images of the blood vessels within your eyes. During this test, a dye is injected into your arm. It travels through your bloodstream and eventually reaches your eyes. Your eye doctor takes pictures while the dye circulates, helping identify any blocked, broken, or leaking blood vessels within the retina.
- Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT): Another useful test is optical coherence tomography (OCT), which utilizes light waves to create cross-sectional images of the retina. This reveals the thickness of the retina and any fluid buildup, which can be vital in monitoring the effectiveness of your treatment.
These tests are painless and usually take less than an hour to complete.
Keeping a record of your diabetes management helps your doctor monitor your progress. Use a notebook or phone to record the following:
- The date of your diagnosis and what type of diabetes you have.
- The time and dates of your blood sugar level tests.
- Blood sugar readings at different times of the day, and what they were before and after meals.
- What your highest and lowest blood sugar readings were in the past month, and what factors may have influenced them
- What your most recent A1C test result was, and remember to include the date. This test measures your average blood sugar level over the past three months.
- Your medication, such as insulin or other treatments used to manage your diabetes.
If you or a loved one has diabetes, it is crucial to book an appointment with your local optometrist. Picking up eye issues caused by diabetes early on can prevent progression or even reverse any damage caused.