If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you have to take extra steps to make sure that you do not develop any of its complications. The complications can range from cardiovascular disease to diabetic foot to kidney failure. Diabetes can also affect your eyesight and this condition is known as diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetic retinopathy, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a diabetes complication where, over time, too much sugar in your blood can lead to the blockage of the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina, cutting off its blood supply. As a result, the eye tries to grow new blood vessels. However, these new blood vessels do not develop properly and can leak easily.
The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include spots or dark strings flowing in your vision (floaters); blurred vision; fluctuating vision; impaired color vision; dark or empty areas in your vision and vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes.
There are two types of diabetic retinopathy:
- Early diabetic retinopathy. In this more common form called nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR), new blood vessels are not proliferating. When you have NPDR, the walls of the blood vessels in your retina weaken. Tiny bulges or microaneurysms protrude from the vessel walls of the smaller vessels, sometimes leaking fluid and blood in the retina. Larger retinal vessels can begin to dilate and become irregular in diameter as well. NPDR can progress from mild to severe as more blood vessels become blocked. Nerve fibers in the retina may begin to swell. Sometimes, the central part of the retina or the macula begins to swell, a condition called macular edema that requires treatment.
- Advanced diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy can progress to this more severe type known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy. In this type, damaged blood vessels close off, causing the growth of new, abnormal blood vessels in the retina, and can leak into the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the center of your eye (vitreous). Eventually, the scar tissue stimulated by the growth of new blood vessels may cause the retina to detach from the back of your eye. If the new blood vessels interfere with the normal flow of fluid out of the eye, pressure may build up in the eyeball. This can damage the nerve that carries images from your eye to your brain (optic nerve), resulting in glaucoma.
Diabetic retinopathy cannot be prevented. However, regular eye examinations, good control of your blood sugar and blood pressure and early intervention for vision problems can help prevent severe vision loss.
Reduce the risk of getting diabetic retinopathy by doing the following:
- Manage your diabetes. Make healthy eating and physical activity part of your daily routine. Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, such as walking, daily. Take oral diabetes medications or insulin as directed.
- Monitor you blood sugar level. You may need to check and record your blood sugar level several times a day – more frequent measurements may be required if you are ill or under stress. Ask your doctor how often you need to test your blood sugar.
- Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control. Eating healthy foods, exercising regularly and losing excess weight can help. Sometimes medication is needed too.
- If you smoke or use other types of tobacco, ask your doctor to help you quit. Smoking increases your risk of various diabetes complications, including diabetic retinopathy.
- Pay attention to vision changes. Contact your ophthalmologist right away if you experience sudden vision changes or your vision becomes blurry, spotty or hazy.
While diabetes does not necessarily lead to vision loss, taking an active role in diabetes management can go a long way toward preventing complications.
About the Author:
Anne Ruth Dela Cruz is a seasoned writer who has interests in health, wellness and business start ups. She has also dabbled in corporate communications and public relations. A mother of four, Anne also loves videoke sessions and reading a good book. My posts appear on: Negosentro, World Executives Digest, Executive Chronicles, Get Health Access, and Trade & Travel Journal.