retinopathy is the most common among a group of
diabetic eye diseases, which sometimes lead to
partial or total blindness. In the United States,
it is the most common cause of blindness among
If you are a diabetic, then the sugar in your
body is not being stored or used properly. Your
blood sugar then gets too high. In diabetic retinopathy,
it is this sugar, which damages the blood vessels
in the retina, which is the light sensitive tissue
at the back of the eye. It is the retina which
gives you vision.
In some cases, blood vessels swell and leak
fluid and in other cases, new blood vessels are
formed. The disease may not be noticed by you
until loss of vision sets in. Diabetic retinopathy
normally affects both your eyes.
Diabetic retinopathy can also cause retinal
thickening. It may also involve the peripheral
retina, the macula or both.
Stages of diabetic retinopathy
In the early stage of the disease, called non-proliferative
retinopathy, the walls of the blood vessels become
weak and cause dot-like hemorrhage. When this
happens small balloon like swellings are formed
in these tiny blood vessels. This may also cause
edema in the retina leading to loss of vision.
As the disease progresses, the blood vessels
which nourish the retina are blocked. As more
blood vessels are blocked, the blood-deprived
retina sends signals to the body for more blood.
At this final and advanced stage of the disease,
called proliferative retinopathy, signals sent
by the retina trigger the growth of new blood
vessels. The new blood vessels formed in the
retina are abnormal and have weak walls, and
by themselves do not cause any damage. The damage
is caused by the weak walls of these new arteries,
which leak blood to the eye leading to vision
Signs and Symptoms
In the early stages, you may not see any symptom
nor feel any pain. Later you may have macular
edema, which is the condition where the macula – the
light sensitive part of the retina - swells due
to leaking fluid. If new blood vessels grow in
your retina then blood from these vessels may
leak into your eyes and block vision.
Often you can have macular edema or proliferative
retinopathy and still have normal vision. But
you run a high risk of becoming at least partially
blind. In such cases, only the eye care professionals
can tell whether you have any of these conditions.
Remember, timely treatment is important to avoid
Clinicians often rely on early signs rather
than symptoms to detect diabetic retinopathy.
These are leaking blood vessels, macular edema,
pale fatty deposits on the retina, which are
signs of leaking blood vessels, damaged nerve
tissues and any changes in the blood vessels.
On your part, if you are a diabetic watch out
for spots of blood or specks, caused by hemorrhage,
floating in your vision. If they occur, see the
doctor immediately. Sometimes these specks vanish
by themselves. Even so, see your doctor. You
cannot get complacent as hemorrhage can recur.
If you are a diabetic, then prevention must
be your watchword. All diabetics risk developing
retinopathy. Therefore, as a diabetic, be sure
to have a thorough eye examination done every
Maintain a healthy diet to keep your blood sugar,
blood pressure and blood cholestrol under control.
Visit your doctor regularly for eye examination,
particularly if you notice any of the signs mentioned
above. Early detection is vital to prevent blindness.
In the early stages, no treatment is needed
unless you have macular edema. Macular edema
is treated with laser surgery. The procedure
is called focal laser treatment. Laser treatment
slows down the leakage of blood and reduces the
amount of fluid in the retina. Complete treatment
may require more than one session. Focal laser
treatment cannot only reduce the risk of vision
loss by 50%, but in a small number of cases of
vision loss, it can be improved.
Proliferative retinopathy can be treated by
laser photocoagulation, which seals off the blood
vessels and destroys new growth. This treatment
is almost painless since the retina has no nerve
endings. However, you may suffer partial blindness.
The main aim of the procedure is to arrest further
growth of the disease.
If blood has leaked into the vitreous humor,
contained in the eye chamber, then a procedure
called vitrectomy is performed. Vitrectomy removes
the blood. The body gradually replaces the lost
vitreous humor, usually improving the vision.