Diabetic Retinopathy: The Basics

Diabetes, Diabetes Type 1, Diabetes Type 2, Healthy Aging, Healthy Living
on August 19, 2011
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One of the more serious complications of diabetes is diabetic retinopathy, or damage to the retina caused by the high blood sugars and high blood pressure associated with diabetes. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-age Americans.” Normally, diabetic retinopathy develops in people who have blood sugars that are not well controlled or develops in uncontrolled diabetes.

Diabetic retinopathy symptoms. Initially, it is very likely that diabetic retinopathy will not have any symptoms. In many cases, symptoms will not appear until permanent damage has been done, or damage that may require surgical intervention to correct. When symptoms do develop, it may be in the form of blurry or fuzzy vision, blind spots, darkened vision or bursts of light in the field of vision. The exact symptoms you might experience will vary depending on the part of the retina that is affected and the severity of the problem.

Causes of sight loss with retinopathy. In the earlier stages of retinopathy, tiny vessels in the eye become swollen or blocked due to prolonged high blood pressure. Sight loss occurs when these vessels begin to leak, when the eye experiences sufficient decreased blood flow due to blocked vessels or when the retina detaches. The point at which sight loss can be detected will vary.

How diabetic retinopathy is detected. Generally, an optometrist or ophthalmologist will dilate your eyes as part of a routine eye examination. During this process, eye drops are administered that temporarily paralyze the muscles in your iris, allowing them to relax so that the doctor can look at the back of your eye — the retina. Those already diagnosed with diabetics should get eye exams every year in order to ensure that the retina has not sustained any damage. Those at risk for type 2 diabetes should also get routine eye exams, as well as yearly physical exams to test blood sugars and ensure no potentially harmful conditions have developed.