Diabetic retinopathy is the most common form of diabetic eye disease. Diabetic retinopathy usually only affects people who have had diabetes for a long time and can result in blindness.
Retinopathy can affect all diabetics and becomes particularly dangerous when it is left untreated.
The longer a person has diabetes, the greater the risk becomes of developing diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetes retinopathy is just one type of diabetic eye disease.
All people with diabetes should have a dilated eye examination at least once every year to check for diabetic retinopathy
How is diabetic retinopathy caused?
Diabetic retinopathy is caused by prolonged high blood glucose levels. Over time, this causes damage to the small blood vessels within the retina.
This may cause haemorrhages, exudates and even swelling of the retina.
This then starves the retina of oxygen, and abnormal vessels may grow. Good blood glucose control helps to lower diabetes retinopathy risks.
What is diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy occurs when changes in blood glucose levels cause changes in retinal blood vessels.
In some cases, these vessels will swell up (macular oedema) and leak fluid into the rear of the eye.
In other cases, abnormal blood vessels will grow on the surface of the retina.
Gradually, diabetic retinopathy becomes more serious and progresses from ‘background retinopathy’ to seriously affecting vision and eventually causing blindness.
Diabetic retinopathy includes 3 different types, each of which is profiled below:
Background retinopathy, also known as simple retinopathy, involves tiny swellings in the walls of the blood vessels. Known as blebs, they show up as small dots on the retina and are usually accompanied by yellow patches of exudates (blood proteins).
Background diabetic retinopathy needs monitoring by an ophthalmologist.
The macula is the most well used area of the retina, and this stage refers to the progression of background retinopathy into the macular.
This can cause vision problems.
Proliferative retinopathy is an advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy in which the retina becomes blocked causing the growth of abnormal blood vessels.
These can then bleed into the eyes, cause the retina to detach, and seriously damage vision. If left untreated, this can cause blindness. In the case of a vitreous haemorrhage, this loss of vision can be instant.