What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a diabetes complication that affects the retina, the light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of your eye. The condition can affect anyone with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. The longer you have diabetes and the less controlled your blood sugar is, the more likely you are to develop this eye complication.

Signals sent from the retina to the brain allow you to see. Diabetes affects the retina when high blood sugar levels cause blockage to the blood vessels that nourish the retina, cutting off its blood supply. This loss of blood flow to the retina causes abnormal new vessels to grow. These new vessels can leak and create scar tissue that can cause loss of vision.

Risk factors for diabetic retinopathy

Anyone who has diabetes can develop diabetic retinopathy. The risk factors that increase your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy include:

  • Longer duration of diabetes
  • Poor control of blood sugar level
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy

It’s uncommon to have symptoms during the early stages of the condition. The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy often don’t appear until major damage occurs inside the eye. You can reduce your risk of damage to the retina by managing your blood sugar levels and getting regular eye exams to monitor your eye health.

When symptoms do appear, they can include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Fluctuating vision
  • Dark spots or strings in your vision (floaters)
  • Dark or empty areas in your vision
  • Loss of vision

Treatment for diabetic retinopathy

Treatment for early diabetic retinopathy is focused on monitoring your eye health and managing your diabetes. Treatment for advanced diabetic retinopathy depends on the type of damage and severity of retinopathy.

Treatment options include injections, surgery and laser treatment:

  • Anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) drugs injected into the eye inhibits the growth of new, leaky blood vessels.
  • A surgical procedure called a vitrectomy may be needed if a lot of blood has leaked into the eye and the vision does not clear or if the retina has detached. The vitreous, a jelly-like substance that fills the back of the eye, is removed and replaced with a salt solution to clear away the blood that’s affecting your vision. Scar tissue may also be removed during a vitrectomy.
  • Laser treatment, also known as photocoagulation, can be used to shrink or seal the abnormal blood vessels.

How is diabetic retinopathy prevented?

If you have diabetes, you can reduce your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by:

  • Getting regular eye exams
  • Keeping your blood sugar levels within target
  • Maintaining blood pressure and cholesterol levels in a healthy range
  • Not smoking
  • Eating nutritious food and exercising regularly

Book a Consultation

If you’d like to find out more about diabetic retinopathy, please call us on (03) 9070 0955, or contact us using the online form below and we will be in touch.