Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of new blindness in adults in the United States. It results from diabetes, a disease in which your body does not properly store and utilize sugar. The body is unable to properly draw sugar from the blood stream into the cells where it is needed for energy. As a result the sugar remains in the blood stream. These high levels of sugar can damage blood vessels in delicate structures like the retina, which is a film-like layer in the back of the eye that senses light. This damage is called diabetic retinopathy.
Types of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy is divided into two types:
- Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR)
- Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR)
NPDR is a milder stage of diabetic retinopathy. In this stage, tiny blood vessels within the retina leak blood or fluid. The leaking fluid can accumulate in the retina and cause swelling or leave fatty deposits, which can distort vision. In some cases, the damaged blood vessels will close down and stop providing blood flow and nourishment to the retina. As a result, abnormal blood vessels will develop.
When new vessels develop, it is called proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR). These new blood vessels are too fragile to provide nourishment to the retina and they eventually break and bleed. This bleeding can cause the inside of the eye to fill with blood and can lead to more serious consequences, like retinal detachments. PDR usually causes more severe vision loss than NPDR.
Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy
The best treatment for diabetic retinopathy is to not get it in the first place. Maintaining very tight control of your blood glucose, blood pressure and blood lipids makes it much less likely that you will develop diabetic retinopathy. This is best accomplished in conjunction with your doctor and other healthcare professionals like diabetic educators and dietitians.
If, during your comprehensive annual dilated eye examination, you are found to have diabetic retinopathy that needs to be treated, you will be referred to a retina specialist. These highly specialized eye surgeons use advanced treatments like lasers, medications and surgery to treat diabetic retinopathy of all stages.
Scheduling Your Eye Exam
Diabetic patients should have a dilated eye exam by an ophthalmologist or optometrist at least once every year. Dilating the pupil allows your eye doctor to more carefully examine the delicate internal structures of the eye and diagnose diabetic retinopathy before it causes vision loss. If you have diabetes, but have not had a comprehensive eye exam, schedule a consultation with one of our ophthalmologists or optometrists using our online form or by calling one of our offices in Hagerstown, Chambersburg, or Waynesboro.