Diabetic retinopathy occurs when there is damage to the small blood vessels that nourish tissue and nerve cells in the retina of the eye; a common complication of diabetes.
Diabetic retinopathy has four stages:
Stage One – Mild Non-Proliferative Retinopathy: At this early stage, small areas of balloon-like swelling occur in the retina’s tiny blood vessels.
Stage Two – Moderate Non-Proliferative Retinopathy: As the disease progresses, some blood vessels that nourish the retina become blocked.
Stage Three – Severe Non-Proliferative Retinopathy: During this stage, many more blood vessels become blocked, which disrupts the blood supply that nourishes the retina. The damaged retina then signals the body to produce new blood vessels.
Stage Four – Proliferative Retinopathy: At this advanced stage, signals sent by the retina trigger the development of new blood vessels that grow (or proliferate) in the retina and the vitreous, which is a transparent gel that fills the interior of the eye. Because these new blood vessels are abnormal, they can rupture and bleed, causing hemorrhages in the retina or vitreous. Scar tissue can develop and can tug at the retina, causing further damage or even retinal detachment.
In addition, fluid can leak into the macula, the small sensitive area in the center of the retina that provides detailed vision. This fluid can cause macular edema (or swelling), which can occur at any stage of diabetic retinopathy, although it is more likely to occur as the disease progresses.
Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy can include:
- Blurry vision or double vision
- Flashing lights, which can indicate a retinal detachment
- A veil, cloud or streaks of red in the field of vision, or dark or floating spots in one or both eyes, which can indicate bleeding
- Blind or blank spots in the field of vision
If you have diabetes, you should be aware of the potential of developing diabetic retinopathy. The longer a person has diabetes, the higher their risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Early treatment of diabetic retinopathy is the best way to ensure the patient does not experience irreversible changes in the vision and complete loss of vision. This is why regular retinal examinations are so important.