“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” – Jonathan Swift

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication arising out of diabetes that affects the eyes. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue in the eye. When the blood vessels in the retina are damaged, the condition is called diabetic retinopathy. At first, there may be only mild problems with vision, but there are chances that diabetic retinopathy can eventually cause blindness.

Possible Causes:

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication arising from high blood sugar levels and affects the eyes. The primary diabetic retinopathy cause is damage to the blood vessels of the retina. Excess sugar in your blood can disrupt the blood supply to the retina by blocking the blood vessels. As a result, the eye tries to grow new blood vessels which are not developed and can leak or bleed.

The cause of the disease depends on the type: 

  • In non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR): This is the response of the retina to high blood sugar levels; there is no growth of new blood vessels. If the blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol are controlled well, then the condition can improve. 
  • In proliferative diabetic retinopathy, there is growth of abnormal new blood vessels. These can cause bleeding inside the eye and scar tissue formation, leading to retinal detachment. 

    Often abnormal vessels can cause a pressure build up in the eyeball, resulting in glaucoma, damaging the optic nerve, and eventually leading to blindness.

Risk Factors: 

Anyone who has type 1 or type 2 diabetes can develop diabetic retinopathy. You are at a higher risk of developing diabetic retinopathy if you have:

  • Poor control of your blood sugar level. The longer you have diabetes and the less controlled your blood sugar is, the more likely you are to develop this eye condition.
  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Pregnancy may worsen diabetic retinopathy, so if you're pregnant, your eye doctor will be vigilant and will monitor your eyes throughout your pregnancy.
  • Smoking and use of tobacco. 

Signs & Symptoms: 

When the cataract is nascent, you may not have any symptoms and there may be only mild vision problems. But as time passes, it can lead to blindness. 

As the disease progresses you may experience spots or dark strings dancing in front of your eyes, blurring of vision, diminished colour vision and loss of vision. Both the eyes may get affected by diabetic retinopathy.

Diagnosis: 

At Medcare, the eye specialist will conduct a systematic diabetic retinopathy diagnosis. The specialist will dilate your eyes with drops, to conduct a thorough check of your pupils, to note if there is any abnormal growth of new blood vessels or scar tissue, swelling, blood or fatty deposits in the retina, blood flowing into the vitreous, retinal detachment or damage to your optic nerve. 

Other tests may include a vision test, measuring the eye pressure for glaucoma and checking for cataract. 

The ophthalmologist may also conduct the following tests:

  • Fluorescein angiography using images to pinpoint blood vessels that are closed, broken down or leaking fluid.
  • Optical coherence tomography (OCT) examination to measure the thickness of the retina, which will help determine whether fluid has leaked into retinal tissue.

Treatment Options: 

Diabetic retinopathy involves the abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina. Treatment is determined based on the type of diabetic retinopathy and its severity.

In case of early diabetic retinopathy, if you are able to control your blood sugar levels, the progression of mild diabetic retinopathy slows down. In case of advanced diabetic retinopathy, surgery is usually required. The surgical options are:

  • Photocoagulation or focal laser treatment, to control the flow of fluid into the eyes.
  • Pan-retinal photocoagulation or scatter laser treatment, which does the job of shrinking the abnormal blood vessels.
  • Anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) therapy involves injecting medication into the vitreous in the eye to reduce the swelling of the retina and arrest the growth of new blood vessels.
  • In vitrectomy, an incision is made to remove blood from the vitreous of the eye as well as the scar tissue that's affecting the retina.

At Medcare, our highly qualified eye specialists and cutting-edge technology will treat you well. To book an appointment with the retina specialist, click here.

FAQs:الأسئلة الشائعة:
  • What complications can occur in diabetic retinopathy?

    A: Complications can lead to serious vision problems like (i) vitreous haemorrhage -blood may flow into the vitreous and block your vision, (ii) retinal detachment – as the retina gets detached from the back of your eye you see spots and lights flashing in front of your eyes with loss of vision, (iii) glaucoma – new blood vessel cause pressure to build on the eyeball damaging the optic nerve and finally (iv) complete blindness.

  • How can this condition be prevented?

    A: First and foremost manage your diabetes, monitor your blood sugar closely, do a haemoglobin A1C test to check your 3 months’ average sugar level, keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under check, quit smoking and pay heed to vision changes. However, since diabetes does not produce any visual symptoms till the late stage of the disease, it is imperative to get a retina check-up at least once every year.