What All Diabetics Need To Know About Diabetic Retinopathy

As a diabetic, you are at an increased risk of a number of eye issues, the most serious of which is diabetic retinopathy. This condition can lead to complete blindness if not managed properly. Thus, it is important for you to learn as much as you can about it – so you can take the proper measures to protect yourself. 

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition in which the retina, which is the sensory membrane at the back of the eye, becomes damaged over time. Specifically, when blood sugar levels are high, the blood vessels in the retina become damaged and leak fluids. Signs of diabetic retinopathy include shadows in the field of vision, distorted vision, eye pain, and problems with vision that seem to come and go.

How is diabetic retinopathy diagnosed?

If your symptoms suggest diabetic retinopathy, your eye doctor will administer a test called a fluorescein angiography. A special dye will be injected into your bloodstream. As the blood circulates through your veins and eventually reaches your eyes, it will slowly appear on your retina. Your eye doctor will then examine the retina under a microscope in order to analyze the distribution of the dye. The appearance and pattern of the dye will allow the doctor to confirm whether you have retinopathy as well as determine how severe it is.

How is the condition treated?

If you are diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, your eye doctor may recommend a therapy called Anti-VEGF Injection Therapy. This is a process by which special proteins are injected into the eye to slow the leakage of fluid in the retina. Regular treatments will be required. This treatment won't fix the damage that has already occurred, but it will help prevent the symptoms from becoming worse.

If your retinopathy is still in the very early stages, a prescription corticosteroid medication may be recommended instead of injections. This type of medication can slow the damage to your retina. Of course, it will also be important to work with your doctor to keep your blood sugar under close control. Diabetic retinopathy is often a sign that you have not been managing your blood sugar as well as you could, and improving this management will help slow the progression of the disease.

How can you protect yourself?

If you are still retinopathy-free, you can keep yourself that way by keeping your blood sugar under close control.  If you use insulin, follow your doctor's orders precisely. Watch your diet, and make sure you're getting plenty of exercise. Meet with your doctor if you are often getting higher-than-normal blood sugar readings, so that the two of you can work out a better management plan for you diabetes.

Also, make sure you're having annual eye exams (such as one from Focus West Optometry). This way, if you do develop retinopathy, it will be detected early when treatment is the most effective.