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Diabetic retinopathy is a condition occuring in persons with diabetes. It causes progressive damage to the retina and is a serious sight-threatening complication of diabetes.

Diabetes is a disease that interferes with the body’s ability to use and store sugar, which can cause many health problems, including diabetic retinopathy. Too much sugar in the blood can cause damage throughout the body, including the eyes. Prolonged periods of high blood sugar can lead ot the accumulation of fluid in the lens inside the eye that controls eye focusing. This changes the curvature of the lens and results in the development of blurred vision. The blurring of distance vision as a result of lens swelling will subside once the blood sugar levels are brought under control.

Over time, diabetes affects the circulatory system of the retina.

Diabetic retinopathy is the result of damage to the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina. They leak blood and other fluids that cause swelling of the retinal tissue and clouding of vision. The condition usually affects both eyes. The longer a person has diabetes and less control of blood sugar, the more likely they will develop diabetic retinopathy. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness. Better control of blodo sugar levels in patients with diabetes can slow the onset and progression of diabetic retinopathy.

Non-proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (NPDR)

Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy is the early stage of the diesease in which symptoms will be mild or non-existent. In NPDR, the blood vessels in the retina are weakened, causing tiny bulges (microanuerysms) to protrude from their walls.

Diagnosis

Diabetic retinopathy can be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye examination. Testing, with special emphasis on the retina and macula, may include:

Patient history to determine vision difficulties, presence of diabetes, and other general health concerns that may be affecting visionVisual acuity measurements to determine the extent to which central vision has ben affected

Refraction to determine the need for changes in a corrective lenses prescription

Evaluation of the occular structures, including the evaluation of the retina through pupil dilation

Measurement of the pressure within the eye

Retinal photography or tomography to document the current status of the retina

Fluorescein angiography to evaluat abnormal blood vessel growth

*Early Stages

Often, there are no visual symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. That is why the American Optometric Association recommends that everyone with diabetes have a comprehensive eye examination once a year. Early detection and treatment of this disease can limit the potential for significant vision loss.

Treatment

Treatment varies depending on the extent of the disease. It may require laser surgery to seal leaking blood vessels, or to discourage new leaky blood vessels from forming. Injections of medications into the eye may be needed to decrease inflammation or stop the formation of new blood vessels. In more advanced cases, a surgical procedure to remove and replace the gel-like fluid in the back of the eye (the vitreous) may be needed. A retinal detachment (the separation of the light-receiving lining in the back of the eye), resulting from diabetic retinopathy, may also require surgical repair.

Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy*

  • Seeing spots or floaters in your field of vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Having a dark or “empty spot” in the center of your vision
  • Difficulty seeing well at night

Who’s at risk

  • Persons with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes
  • Hispanics and African Americans
  • Persons with medical conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol
  • Pregnant women. (If gestational diabetes develops, the patient is at much higher risk of developing diabetes as they age)

What you can do

  • Take your medication as prescribed
  • Stick to your diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Control high blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Avoid alchohol
  • Avoid smoking
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