Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes Mellitus can affect the entire body and is a common condition that tends to affect organs where small and delicate blood vessels are located, such as the kidneys or eyes. When the blood vessels of the inner part of the eye are affected, diabetic retinopathy occurs.

The retina, located deep in the back of the eye, detects visual images and transmits them to the brain. Blood vessels lie within and on top of the retina. These vessels can be damaged from prolonged high blood sugar, and when this happens, they may leak fluid or blood and may even form scar tissue. The retina can become distorted from this abnormal leakage and impair the retina’s ability to absorb light and transmit visual information.

During initial stages, reading and vision is typically not affected. However, when retinopathy enters advanced stages, new blood vessels grow in the retina. The new vessel growth is the body’s attempt to overcome and replace the damaged vessels caused by diabetes (more specifically the prolonged high blood sugar levels).

These new vessels are not normal and may bleed, causing vision to become hazy; and, occasionally resulting in a complete loss of vision. Additionally, if the growth of the abnormal blood vessels is on the iris of the eye, it can lead to glaucoma. Diabetic retinopathy is very serious and can also cause the formation of cataracts. Finally, the new vessels have the ability to damage the retina by forming scar tissue and pulling the retina away from its proper location. This condition is called retinal detachment and can lead to blindness if left untreated.

Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

  • There are usually no symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy
  • Floaters
  • Difficulty reading or doing close work
  • Double vision
  • If left untreated, severe vision loss, even blindness, can occur


Causes of Diabetic Retinopathy

Everyone who has diabetes is at a definite risk for developing diabetic retinopathy, but not everyone develops it. Increased blood sugar levels increase the risk. Most people who are diabetics don’t develop diabetic retinopathy until they’ve had diabetes for at least 10 years; however, failure to take proper precautions can decrease that time frame drastically and quickly.

Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Developing Diabetic Retinopathy:

  • Controlling blood sugar
  • Monitoring your blood pressure
  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting an eye exam at least once a year

Diagnosing Diabetic Retinopathy

Symptoms are more often than not absent in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. Vision may not change at all (or at least noticeably) until the disease becomes severe.

Dr. Singh is an avid supporter of conducting a detailed eye examination because it is the only way to diagnose changes in the vessels of your eyes. He stresses that regular examinations for people with diabetes are vital.

There is a test called fluorescein angiography which may be performed during the eye evaluation. During this test, a harmless orange-red dye (fluorescein) is injected into a vein in the patient’s arm. The dye travels through the patient’s body to the blood vessels in their retina.

Dr. Singh uses a special camera with a green filter to flash a blue light into the patient’s eye and takes multiple photographs. These photographs must be carefully analyzed in order to identify any damage to the retina or new blood vessels.

Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy does not usually impair sight early on; however, it will once the development of long-term complications, like proliferative retinopathy when abnormal new blood vessels bleed into the eye.

When advanced stages of retinopathy occur, a procedure called pan-retinal photocoagulation is performed. During this procedure, Dr. Singh uses a laser is used to destroy all of the dead areas of retina where blood vessels have been closed. Once the areas have been treated with the laser, the retina stops manufacturing new blood vessels. Those blood vessels that are already present tend to either decrease or disappear.