Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye condition. Caused by high blood sugar levels, diabetic retinopathy at the final stages can lead to blindness if left undiagnosed and untreated.
The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye, and diabetic retinopathy causes changes in the blood vessels that feed the retina. Due to the high blood sugar levels, these blood vessels can swell and leak fluids, or abnormal blood vessels can grow on the surface of the retina, eventually causing vision loss.
Anyone with diabetes, either type 1 or 2, is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Up to 45% of diagnosed diabetics have some stage of the condition.
There are usually no symptoms until the diabetic retinopathy reaches a later stage when changes in vision will become noticeable. Anyone diagnosed with diabetes is eligible for a free eye check every year, and in addition to this, people with diabetes who are over 12 are invited for a free annual eye screening.
The screening for diabetic retinopathy is actually a photograph of the back of the eye that will show any signs of the condition.
In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, no treatment is needed. The condition can be managed by controlling blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol. When the condition is more advanced, laser surgery is used to shrink the problematic blood vessels.
Laser surgery reduces the risk of blindness by up to 90%, but it cannot restore any vision that has already been lost. It also works best when it is performed before the blood vessels have swollen and started leaking fluid, so early detection is vital.
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, it is important that you have regular eye checks as early detection of diabetic retinopathy is the best way to protect against vision loss. If you are worried you may have diabetic retinopathy, you should visit your Optometrist or Doctor at the earliest opportunity.