Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes which affects the small blood vessels in the lining at the back of the eye. This lining is called the retina.
The retina helps to change what you see into messages that travel along the sight nerve to the brain. A healthy retina is necessary for good eyesight. Diabetic retinopathy can cause the blood vessels in the retina to leak or become blocked and damage your sight.
In the early stages, diabetic retinopathy will not affect the sight, but if the changes get worse, eventually the sight will be affected.
The categories of retinopathy are:
- Background retinopathy
Background retinopathy occurs in the early stages and damage is limited to tiny bulges (microaneurysms) in the blood vessel walls. Although these can leak blood and fluid they do not usually affect vision.
- Pre-proliferative diabetic retinopathy is detected
This is where there are changes detected in the retina that do not require treatment but need to be monitored closely as there is a risk that they may progress and affect the eyesight. A referral will be made to an Ophthalmology Clinic. It is important that you attend this appointment.
- Proliferative diabetic retinopathy
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy occurs where fragile new blood vessels form on the surface of the retina over time. These abnormal vessels can bleed or develop scar tissue causing severe loss of sight.
- Diabetic macular oedema
Diabetic macular oedema occurs where leaky blood vessels affect the part of the retina called the macula. If fluid leaks from these vessels and affects the centre of the macula, the sight will be affected. This is the more common eye change.
Both proliferative diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular oedema can be treated and managed if they are detected early enough. If they are left untreated, sight problems will develop.
What causes diabetic retinopathy?
When someone has diabetes, over time the blood vessels in the retina become thicker and the blood flowing in the blood vessels slows down.
In the early stages, diabetic retinopathy will not affect the sight, but if the changes get worse, eventually the sight will be affected
Who is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy?
Anybody with diabetes, either Type 1 or Type 2, is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. The longer you have had diabetes, the more likely you are to develop diabetic retinopathy.
Ways to minimise your risks of diabetic retinopathy?
- Control your blood sugar and blood pressure
- Take your medication as prescribed
- Attend your free diabetic retinopathy eye screening appointments