What is diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of type 1 and type 2 diabetes which is caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye (retina).
The retina needs a constant supply of blood but persistently high blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels in the eye, interrupting or even preventing the vital supply of oxygen and nutrients. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can, over time, cause permanent blindness.
There are three stages of diabetic retinopathy:
Background retinopathy: The blood vessels in the eye develop tiny swellings, which may leak fluid slightly but don’t usually affect vision.
Pre-proliferative retinopathy (also known as non-proliferative retinopathy): More severe and widespread changes affect the blood vessels in the eye, which are more likely to burst and bleed, as well as the development of abnormal, weak blood vessels and tiny specks of damage on the retina.
Proliferative retinopathy: In this advanced stage, there is a proliferation of new and abnormal blood vessels in the eye and you may begin to notice loss of vision.
What are the symptoms?
If you have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, or are pre-diabetic, consult your optometrist, diabetes care team, GP of Edinburgh Eye Surgeons if you notice:
Any loss of vision – gradual or sudden
Inability to see specific colours
‘Holes’ in your vision
‘Floaters’ in your field of vision
Blurred or patchy vision
Painful or red eyes.
If the problem is diagnosed early, lifestyle changes, good diabetes management and medical treatment can prevent progression of the condition and help to protect against damage to your sight.
Undiagnosed diabetic retinopathy can cause serious vision problems, including blindness. It is vitally important to see your optometrist, diabetes care team or GP if you are diabetic or pre-diabetic and have any worries about your vision.
Potential treatment includes:
Laser surgery (laser photocoagulation)
Injections of medication into your eyes
Surgery to remove blood or scar tissue from damaged eyes (vitrectomy).
These treatments can be provided by Edinburgh Eye Surgeons.
Can diabetic retinopathy be prevented?
If you have diabetes, you can reduce the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by controlling your blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol and maintaining a healthy weight. You should also attend all diabetic screening appointments, including diabetic eye screenings, when images taken of your eyes should reveal any early warning signs of this condition.