Diabetic Retinopathy

According to the National Eye Institute, it is estimated that nearly 5.4 million Americans, ages 18 and over currently have diabetic retinopathy. This eye disease causes over 8000 cases of new blindness annually, and is the primary cause of blindness for people ages 25 to 74 (Valero and Drouilhet, 2001).

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes caused by the deterioration of the blood vessels nourishing the retina. These vessels weaken, leak fluid and blood, and fail to provide the nutrients necessary for a healthy retina. Left untreated, retinopathy can result in severe visual loss, including blindness. Approximately 25% of diabetics have some form of the disease, but only a small percentage of those who develop diabetic retinopathy have serious vision problems; an even smaller percentage go blind. Still, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among adults with diabetes. The risk of developing it increases with age and with the duration of the disease.

The longer a person has diabetes, the greater the chance of developing this complication.

What Are the Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy?

Note: If you are a diabetic patient, it is suggested by Donelson Eye Associates that you have yearly dilated eye exams.

  • Retinal swelling may cause blurred vision and distortion
  • Objects may look smaller or larger than normal
  • Floaters may appear due to the bleeding of the blood vessels

There is no pain associated with diabetic retinopathy. Gradual blurring of vision may occur, but changes in the eye can go undetected without a medical eye exam until there is a catastrophic event. If the retinopathy is advanced, the patient may experience clouding and vision loss from bleeding within the eye. Connective tissue pulling on the retina may cause distortion and blurring.

How Is Diabetic Retinopathy Treated?

Treatment of diabetic retinopathy depends on the location of the disease and the degree of damage to the retina. In many cases, treatment may not be required. In others, laser treatments may be recommended to halt further progression of the disease. If retinopathy occurs only in the peripheral retina, careful monitoring of the disease may be all that is necessary. When retinopathy affects the central vision, laser treatment is usually required.

Lasers may be used to seal blood vessels that have leaked. Laser treatment may not halt the disease entirely but can reduce further vision loss by delaying more advanced stages of the disease. When retinopathy has already reached the advanced stage, lasers may be used to curtail the growth of new, abnormal blood vessels. Laser treatment of diabetic retinopathy is usually performed on an outpatient basis.

Learning to Live with Diabetes and Diabetic Retinopathy - Prevention Is the Best Medicine

Early diagnosis and treatment are vital to preventing visual loss from diabetic retinopathy. If the disease is detected early and managed diligently, its more sight-damaging stages can be arrested or slowed. Even when no symptoms are noticeable, the diabetic patient should undergo frequent eye examinations (at least once a year). With careful monitoring, treatment of diabetic retinopathy can begin before sight is affected.

Essential Nutrition Tips for Diabetic Retinopathy Patients

If you are a diabetic patient you have most likely had some kind of discussion with your primary care doctor regarding diet. The nutrition of the food you eat becomes critical for maintaining proper blood sugar levels. Please refer to this list below for diabetic nutrition tips:

  • Drink water (8 glasses per day)
  • Reduce artificial fats
  • Include juice and vegetables daily
  • Increase fiber intake
  • Reduce caffeine or refined sugar