Diabetic retinopathy is the most severe form of diabetic eye disease. This complication of diabetes causes severe damage to the blood vessels of the retina (a thin layer of tissue that lines the back of the eye). High blood sugar levels can also cause blood vessels to swell, leak, or even stop blood from flowing through them.
Diabetic retinopathy can develop in anyone who has Type 1 diabetes.
Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy
- Diabetic macular edema – a build-up of fluid in the macula (area in the center of the retina)
- Neovascularization – the regeneration of new blood vessels in the retina
- Proliferative diabetic retinopathy – the blood vessels bleed and form scar tissue
- Retinal detachment – the retina lifts away from the back of the eye, causing blurred vision
The longer you have diabetes and uncontrolled blood sugar levels, the more likely you are to develop vision complications.
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss for people with diabetes. Other symptoms may include blurred vision, impaired color vision, or poor night vision.
The most effective way to test for and diagnose diabetic retinopathy is through a dilated eye exam. During a dilated eye exam, your physician will:
- Check for pre-existing vision problems.
- Give you eye drops to dilate (widen) your pupil.
- Check for eye diseases.
Early diagnosis and treatment are essential in delaying life-threatening or harmful effects.
Prevention and Management
Prevention and management of diabetic retinopathy include consuming a healthy, well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet, taking prescribed medication, controlling high blood pressure, and exercising regularly. Tight management of blood glucose levels, blood lipids, blood pressure, and smoking cessation can prevent severe vision loss.
If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy may lead to additional eye conditions such as neovascular glaucoma. Treatment varies depending on the extent of the disease. Treatment includes:
- Laser surgery to seal leaking blood vessels
- Medical injections in the eye to decrease inflammation
- Surgical intervention to remove and replace the gel-like fluid in the back of the eye (vitreous)
- Repair of the retinal detachment
The National Eye Institute suggests keeping it on TRACK:
Take your medicines.
Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Add physical activity to your day.
Control your ABCs- A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
Kick the smoking habit.
About Mary Roberts-Curran, MA, RDN, CHES
Mary Roberts-Curran, MA, RDN, CHES is a registered dietitian in Chesapeake at TPMG Nutrition Services. She utilized her years of education to learn about all aspects of health, including wellness, nutrition, and fitness, and works to educate patients on the true meaning of “healthy living.” She finds satisfaction in treating diabetes, cholesterol, heart disease, weight loss, and weight management.