Diabetic retinopathy is an ocular manifestation of diabetes, a systemic disease, which affects up to 80 percent of all patients who have had diabetes for 10 years or more. The longer a person has diabetes, the higher his or her chances are of developing diabetic retinopathy.
Despite these intimidating statistics, research indicates that at least 90 percent of new cases could be reduced. Education on diabetic eye disease and retinopathy is especially important because it is often preventable or treatable. Unfortunately, this means it can go unnoticed in the early stages. As the disease progresses, permanent vision loss is a real possibility if the patient does not receive treatment.
There are multiple forms of diabetic retinopathy, and only your doctor can determine your particular form. With one form, blood vessels may swell and leak fluid. In another, abnormal new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina.
Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy
- Mild Nonproliferative Diabetic Retinopathy: At this stage, small areas of swelling called microaneurysms occur in the tiny blood vessels of the retina. These microaneurysms can leak fluid into the retina, causing it to swell. You may not have any symptoms at this stage, but it is important to have regular eye exams to detect any changes in your retina.
- Moderate Nonproliferative Diabetic Retinopathy: As the disease progresses, the blood vessels in the retina begin to weaken and can become blocked. This can lead to the development of cotton wool spots, which are areas of dead nerve cells that appear as fluffy white patches on the retina. You may experience blurry or distorted vision, difficulty reading, or seeing colors as they truly are.
- Severe Nonproliferative Diabetic Retinopathy: At this stage, more blood vessels become blocked, leading to a decrease in blood flow to the retina. This can cause areas of the retina to become oxygen-deprived, which triggers the growth of new blood vessels on the surface of the retina. These new blood vessels are fragile and can bleed into the vitreous gel inside the eye, causing floaters, blurred vision, or even vision loss.
- Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy: This is the most advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy, and it occurs when the new blood vessels grow and spread across the surface of the retina, optic nerve, and other parts of the eye. These blood vessels can form scar tissue, which can pull on the retina and cause it to detach from the back of the eye. This can cause severe vision loss or even blindness.
In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, many do not notice a change to their vision because there are little to no symptoms. If an eye doctor does not catch diabetic retinopathy early, one could sustain mild blurriness at near or far distances, as well as floaters. In severe cases, a sudden loss of vision may occur.
Unfortunately, diabetic retinopathy can result in permanent damage that cannot be reversed. However, if caught in time, prescribed treatments may slow development and prevent vision loss.
Concerned about the onset of diabetic retinopathy? Please call us to schedule a preventative eye examination today with our staff.
Learn more about this type of diabetic eye disease by watching our video.