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What is Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy is caused by a change in the retina’s blood vessels. The retina is the thin, inner lining in the back of the eye that is light sensitive. The damage is caused by an increase in blood glucose which can harm blood vessels. When these blood vessels thicken, they can develop leaks, which can then lead to vision loss. It is Important to understand you can have normal vision and still have diabetic retinopathy at the back of your eye. That is why we recommend all patients with diabetes to have an annually full eye exam.
The Four Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy
The four stages of diabetic retinopathy are classified as mild, moderate, and severe nonproliferative and proliferative. In the first stage, mild nonproliferative, there will be balloon-like swelling in small areas of the blood vessels in the retina.
In the second stage, known as moderate nonproliferative retinopathy, some of the blood vessels in the retina will become blocked. The third stage, severe nonproliferative retinopathy brings with it more blocked blood vessels, which leads to areas of the retina no longer receiving adequate blood flow. Without proper blood flow, the retina can’t grow new blood vessels to replace the damaged ones.
The fourth and final stage is known as proliferative retinopathy. This is the advanced stage of the disease. Additional new blood vessels will begin to grow in the retina, but they will be fragile and abnormal. Because of this, they can leak blood which will lead to vision loss and possibly blindness.
Living with Diabetic Retinopathy
While diabetic retinopathy is a serious diagnosis, it doesn’t mean that you or an older loved one will lose their eye sight. There are several treatments that can either stop or slow the progression of the disease. With early treatment and follow up care by a physician, the risk of blindness is reduced by 95%.
The best defense is a good offense in this case. Yearly comprehensive dilated eye exams can help catch the disease in its early stages which will lead to better outcomes. Also, some studies show that when blood sugar levels are controlled this can help slow the onset of diabetic retinopathy.
If your loved one has already experienced some vision loss due to diabetic retinopathy, consult with their eye doctor to learn about resources available as well as a getting a referral to a low vision specialist. In addition, consider joining a support group or get involved with a local organization that deals with diabetic retinopathy.
If your loved one has had diabetes for a long period of time, they will most likely develop some level of diabetic retinopathy. The key to reducing their risk of the most serious outcomes is being diligent with eye checkups and early treatment. By doing these two things, the likelihood of serious vision loss can be small.