What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a diabetic eye condition that can potentially cause vision loss and blindness by disrupting blood vessels in the eye.

With nearly two million people in Canada diagnosed with some form of diabetic retinopathy, the eye condition is the most common cause of blindness in people under age 65 and the most common cause of new blindness throughout North America.

What Causes Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by a weakening of the blood vessels in the eye’s retina — the thin layer of nerves that lines the back of your eye that senses light and signals your optic nerve and brain to generate images.

This weakening of these blood vessels can result in the abnormal growth of blood vessels and swelling of the retina, which can potentially lead to severe bleeding. Diabetic retinopathy can lead to blindness if the condition is not treated.

What Is the First Sign of Diabetic Retinopathy?

It is difficult to detect diabetic retinopathy symptoms, as typically patients do not experience significant vision problems in early stages. Blurred vision may be the first symptom a patient experiences. Patients that are in the earliest stage, or background retinopathy, may initially display tiny bulges in the retina’s blood vessels called microaneurysms. This development may cause the vessels to begin leaking blood into the retinas.

How Is Diabetic Retinopathy Diagnosed?

To diagnose diabetic retinopathy stages, it is critical that people suffering from type I and type II diabetes get regular eye checkups. Because the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy are difficult to detect in initial stages for patients, the only way to diagnose is through undergoing an initial eye examination. Without medical treatment, and over a period with an increase in blood sugar levels, the symptoms turn from mild to severe posing a threat to vision.

As the condition progresses, there are several signs that patients may display, such as:

  • Increased eye floaters
  • Blurred vision
  • Impaired color vision
  • Vision loss
  • Empty areas in the vision
  • Fluctuating vision.

How to Treat Retinopathy?

There are several treatments for diabetic retinopathy.

Vitrectomy is one common surgical procedure used to remove the vitreous, a type of fluid inside the eye. The procedure can repair bleeding caused by the condition. Photocoagulation and pan-retinal photocoagulation are laser eye surgeries that can seal leaking blood vessels in the retina.

Your eye doctor will also be able to offer diets and other eye medications that help regulate diabetic retinopathy to keep the condition from advancing. To learn more about diabetic retinopathy, or to schedule a checkup with our experienced optometrists, contact us today.