All about…Diabetic Retinopathy

What is it?

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes. It is caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye (retina). It can cause blindness if left undiagnosed and untreated.

How diabetes can affect the eyes

The light sensitive cells found in the retina convert light into electric signals. These signals are sent to the brain which converts them into the images we see when we look around.

The retina needs a constant supply of blood, which it receives through a network of tiny blood vessels. Over time, a persistently high blood sugar level can lead to swelling or abnormal vessels growing on the surface of the retina, eventually causing loss of vision.

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy

Symptoms may only appear as the condition progresses. Early signs of the condition, however, can be picked up by taking photographs of the eyes during diabetic eye screening. Lifestyle changes and / or treatment can stop it from getting worse.

Typical symptoms of diabetic retinopathy may include:

  • Gradually worsening vision
  • Sudden vision loss
  • Shapes floating in your field of vision
  • Blurred or patchy vision
  • Eye pain or redness

Taking steps to prevent diabetic retinopathy

The risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, or preventing it from getting worse, may be lessened by:

  • Controlling your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Taking your diabetes medication as prescribed
  • Attending all your screening appointments
  • Getting medical advice quickly if you notice any changes to your vision
  • Stopping smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, regular exercise and minimising alcohol

Treatments for diabetic retinopathy

Treatment for diabetic retinopathy is only necessary if screening detects significant problems that mean your vision is at risk. The main treatments for more advanced diabetic retinopathy are:

  • Laser treatment
  • Injections of medication into your eyes
  • An operation to remove blood or scar tissue from your eyes

This article was written by our Sight Awareness Project Officer, Esther Weller.

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