What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic Retinopathy is damage to the small blood vessels in the retina (the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye). This damage can cause leakage of blood and/or fluid, abnormal blood vessel formation and decreased blood supply to the retina.

At first a person may not notice changes in vision.  However, as the retinopathy progresses, one is likely to start noticing a decline in vision, either in one or both eyes. In the advanced stages, there may be severe vision loss or blindness.

What are the stages of diabetic retinopathy?

Background or nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR): Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) is the earliest stage of diabetic retinopathy. With this condition, damaged blood vessels in the retina begin to leak extra fluid and exudate into the retina. NPDR may be minor, moderate or severe.

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR): Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) occurs when many of the blood vessels in the retina close, preventing significant blood flow to the retina. In an attempt to supply blood to the area where the original vessels closed, the retina responds by growing new blood vessels. This is called neovascularisation. However, these new blood vessels are abnormal and do not supply the retina with proper blood flow. Their walls are thin and fragile and if left untreated they can leak, causing severe vision loss and potential blindness to occur.

What causes diabetic retinopathy?

When blood sugar levels are elevated for prolonged periods of time, it can damage the capillaries (tiny blood vessels) that supply blood to the retina. Over time, these little blood vessels begin to leak fluids causing oedema (swelling) in the retina. Eventually, these vessels can close off, reducing the blood supply to the retina (this is known as ischemia).

What are the symptoms?

As the disease progresses, diabetic retinopathy symptoms may include:

  • Blurred vision.
  • Spots, dots or cobweb-like dark strings floating in your vision (floater-type symptoms).
  • Blank or dark areas in your field of vision.
  • Colors appear washed out or different.
  • Severe vision loss

 Diabetic retinopathy symptoms may affect one or both eyes.   

How is it diagnosed?

Dr Hilford will undertake a dilated examination of your eyes and tests such as optical coherence tomography (OCT) and/or fluorescein angiography will be required.

What are the treatment options?

Dr Hilford will discuss treatment options with you including laser treatment and/or intravitreal injections.

Prevention is key, thus strict control of blood sugar levels will significantly reduce the long-term risk of vision loss.