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What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease. As diabetes affects the blood vessels throughout the body, the retina – which needs a rich supply of blood – is also affected. A healthy retina is necessary for good vision. Although at first, you may notice no changes to your vision, over time, diabetic retinopathy can get worse, eventually causing vision loss affecting both eyes.
What Are The Stages Of Diabetic Retinopathy?
At The Woodlands Retina Center we will examine your eyes thoroughly to identify which of the two stages of diabetic retinopathy you have, if any.
At first there are small areas of balloon-like swelling in the retina's tiny blood vessels. As the disease progresses, some blood vessels that nourish the retina are blocked. If many more blood vessels are blocked, several areas of the retina are deprived of their blood supply. These areas of the retina send signals to the body to grow new blood vessels for nourishment.
At this advanced stage, the signals sent by the retina for nourishment trigger the growth of new blood vessels. These new blood vessels are abnormal and fragile. They grow along the retina and along the surface of the clear, vitreous gel that fills the inside of the eye. By themselves, these blood vessels do not cause symptoms or vision loss. However, they have thin, fragile walls. If they leak blood, severe vision loss and even blindness can result.
Who Is At Risk For Diabetic Retinopathy?
All people with diabetes – both type 1 and type 2 – are at risk. That's why everyone with diabetes should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. The longer someone has diabetes, the more likely he or she will get diabetic retinopathy. Between 40 to 45 percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy. During pregnancy, diabetic retinopathy may be a problem for women with diabetes. To protect their vision, pregnant women with diabetes should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam as soon as possible.
What Can I Do To Protect My Vision?
If you have diabetes get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. At The Woodlands Retina Center we will gladly carry out such an exam for you, but remember:
- Proliferative retinopathy can develop without symptoms. At this advanced stage, you are at a high risk of vision loss.
- Macular edema can develop without symptoms at any of the stages of diabetic retinopathy.
- You can develop both proliferative retinopathy and macular edema and still see fine. However, you are at high risk of vision loss
- Your eye care professional can tell if you have macular edema or any stage of diabetic retinopathy. Whether or not you have symptoms, early detection and timely treatment can prevent vision loss
- If you have diabetic retinopathy, you may need an eye exam more often. People with proliferative retinopathy can reduce their risk of blindness by 95 percent with timely treatment and appropriate follow-up care.
How Are Diabetic Retinopathy And Macular Edema Detected?
At the Woodlands Retina Center, we can detect diabetic retinopathy and macular edema during a comprehensive eye exam that will include all or some of the following:
- Visual acuity testing
- A dilated eye exam
- Fluorescein angiography
How Is Diabetic Retinopathy Treated?
The type of therapy needed will be determined according to the stage of retinopathy and the person's general health status. Studies have shown that good control of blood sugar levels can delay and might even prevent the development and progression of diabetic retinopathy. At The Woodlands Retina Center, the following treatment options are available, and will be decided according to the stage of diabetic retinopathy and based on your general health condition:
- Laser Photocoagulation
- Intravitreal injections
- Other types of therapy as deemed necessary
What Can I Do If I Have Already Lost Some Vision From Diabetic Retinopathy?
Low vision services and devices are available that may help you make the most of your remaining vision. At The Woodlands Retina Center we can refer you to a specialist in low vision who can provide you with low vision counseling, training, and other special services for people with visual impairments.