Diabetes affects the very small blood vessels at the back of the eye (the retina). Diabetes causes these blood vessels to leak fluid, haemorrhage (bleed) and block. Eventually, small abnormal blood vessels can grow, resulting in severe haemorrhaging inside the eye, scarring and retinal detachments.
The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy are varied. These include blurred vision, floaters, patchy vision and sometimes there may be no symptoms at all. It is therefore very important to be regularly checked by either your optometrist or ophthalmologist.
In Australia, diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of irreversible vision loss in people aged 25 – 70 years old.
What types of diabetic retinopathy are there?
Broadly speaking, there are 2 types of diabetic retinopathy:
Diabetic retinopathy is further divided into early, non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR), or late, proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR). Mild forms of NPDR are very common and don’t require treatment, however PDR is a severe disease and laser treatment is required to reduce the risk of blindness.
You can reduce your risk of developing significant eye disease by:
Firstly, you should ensure that your general health and diabetes is as well controlled as possible and try to cease smoking.
Treatment for your eyes depends on what type of diabetes your eye has.
Diabetic maculopathy: The gold standard for treating centre-involving maculopathy is intravitreal injections. These usually need to be repeated to maintain the best possible vision. Retinal laser can also be useful in some types of maculopathy, however, as it does cause scarring of the macula, it is less commonly used now than what it was previously.
Diabetic retinopathy: the main treatment for peripheral retinopathy is pan-retinal laser. This usually takes several thousand laser burns to the eye and will take several sessions for complete treatment.
Other resources can be found at: www.diabetesaustralia.com.au