Diabetic retinopathy is a diabetes complication of the eyes. It’s caused by elevated blood sugar levels, which damage the blood vessels connected to the light-sensitive tissues of the retina.
The retina forms the light-sensitive layer found at the back of your eye. It is responsible for turning light into electrical signals, which in turn reach the brain and form the images you often see.
Without constant blood supply from the blood vessels, you'll experience complications in your sight. High blood sugar level damages blood vessels in different stages, including:
- Background retinopathy -Where tiny bulges form in your blood vessels and cause bleeding. This may not affect your eyesight.
- Pre-proliferative retinopathy – Severe and causes significant bleeding of the blood vessels into your eye.
- Proliferative retinopathy - When new blood vessels and scar tissue become very weak and bleed, developing on your retina and causing vision loss.
Diabetic retinopathy, if not diagnosed and treated early, can lead to blindness. However, it can take years for the disease to threaten your sight.
You're at a higher risk of diabetic retinopathy if you:
- Have suffered from diabetes for many years. If you’ve had type 1 or 2 diabetes for more than ten years, you’ll likely to develop diabetic retinopathy.
- Have persistent high sugar levels. Elevated glycated hemoglobin levels can increase your risk of developing this disease.
- Are a smoker. Smoking causes blood vessel disorders.
- Have high blood pressure. This condition causes hypertensive retinopathy. Combined with raised blood sugar levels, high blood pressure increases your diabetic retinopathy risk.
- Have gestational diabetes. If you are pregnant with gestational diabetes, your risk for diabetic retinopathy is high.
- Other conditions include high cholesterol levels.
To reduce the risk for diabetic retinopathy, you have to:
- Control your cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels
- Go for diabetic eye screening
- Have your diabetic retinopathy treated early
- Take your diabetes medication
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, keep your weight in check by exercising
- Quit smoking
Screening is crucial because diabetic retinopathy doesn't show symptoms in its early stages. It's better to detect this condition early and prevent vision loss.