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November is National Diabetes Awareness month.

Diabetic retinopathy is the name of the eye disease caused by diabetes. In general, most patients with diabetes will develop some degree of retinopathy in their life time.

This article will discuss possible ways to prevent or minimize complications as well as risk factors of developing more severe complications.

Anyone who has diabetes, either type 1 or type 2, can develop diabetic retinopathy, but diabetic patients who have had diabetes for 10 years or more who have had poor glycemic control are at a higher risk. 

The following is a list of risk factors for diabetic retinopathy:

  • Duration of diabetes—the longer you have diabetes the greater your risk
  • Poor blood sugar control
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Tobacco use
  • Being African-American, Hispanic, or Native American
  • Pregnancy

Types of Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy has several forms and if left untreated the milder forms will progress.

Background retinopathy is the earliest stage of the disease. It is also called nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR). At this stage, tiny swellings in the walls of the blood vessels, known as microaneurysms, form and show up as small dots on the retina that can sometimes have yellow protein deposits nearby as a sign of leakage.

Even though background retinopathy has minimal effects on your vision, it should be monitored closely by an ophthalmologist so early intervention and treatment can be started if the condition worsens.

Maculopathy is damage to the macula, the part of the eye responsible for central vision. Blood vessels near the macula leak fluid or protein onto the macula damaging it.

If you have maculopathy you may have problems reading or recognizing things in front of you, or you may notice dark spots in the middle of your vision.

Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy is when the abnormal blood vessels grow, swell, rupture, and bleed directly into your eye.

Complications

Retinal detachment can be caused by abnormal blood vessels that stimulate scar tissue formation at the back of your eye. This scaring can pull your retina away and detach it.

Neovascular glaucoma can occur when new blood vessels grow in the front part of your eye and inhibit the flow of fluid out of your eye. This causes pressure to build up in the eye and that pressure can damage the optic nerve.

Prevention

You can reduce your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, or help stop diabetic retinopathy from progressing by doing the following:

Manage your diabetes. Make healthy eating choices and physical activity part of your daily routine. Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise each week.  Take your oral diabetes medications or insulin as directed.

Monitor your blood sugar level. Check and record your blood sugar level several times a day and more frequently if you are ill or under stress. Ask your doctor how often you should be testing your blood sugar.

Ask your doctor for an A1c test. The test will detect your average blood sugar level for a two-to-three-month period. The findings from an A1c test can help you better manage your blood sugar levels.

Keep blood pressure and cholesterol under control. Eating healthy food, regular exercise, and losing weight can help. Sometimes medication is also needed to keep blood pressure and cholesterol under control.

Don’t smoke. Smoking increases your risk of various diabetes complications, including diabetic retinopathy.

Pay attention to vision changes. Contact your eye doctor right away if you experience sudden vision changes or your vision becomes blurry, spotty, or hazy.

Regular dilated eye exams.  Detecting diabetic retinopathy in its very early stages means your eye doctor can treat it before it causes any symptoms. Ask your eye doctor how often you should have a dilated eye exam. Having your eyes examined every few months gives your eye doctor the best chance to treat diabetic retinopathy in its early stages.

We look forward to seeing you. If you have questions or want to make an appointment, please give us a call.


Gregory Scimeca, M.D.
Ophthalmologist and Medical Director

The Eye Professionals – 5 locations