Diabetic Retinopathy is a complication of diabetes and is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina that can bring about severe loss of vision. Diabetic Retinopathy is the leading cause of new blindness among adults in the United States, and people with untreated diabetes are said to be 25 times more prone to blindness than the general population. However, with improved methods of diagnosis and treatment only a small percentage of those who develop Retinopathy experience serious problems with vision. Therefore, it is important that individuals with diabetes receive medical eye exams on an annual basis. In order to understand Diabetic Retinopathy, it is helpful to first understand the basics of how the eye works.
How the eye works
The retina is a thin layer of tissue which covers the back inside wall of the eye. The retina is like the film in a camera. It is the seeing tissue of the eye. The cornea, pupil and lens of the eye are clear and allow light to pass through. The light also passes through the large space in the center of the eye called the vitreous cavity.
The vitreous cavity is filled with a clear, jelly-like substance called vitreous or vitreous gel. The light is then focused on the retina. When focused light hits the retina, a picture is taken. Messages about this picture are sent to the brain through the optic nerve. This is how we see.
There are two kinds of Diabetic Retinopathy
In Diabetic Retinopathy the blood vessels of the retina become abnormal and cause the problems that diabetic patients have with their eyesight. Normally blood vessels in the retina do not leak. But with diabetes, the retinal blood vessels can develop tiny leaks. These leaks cause fluid or blood to seep into the retina.
The retina then becomes wet and swollen and cannot work properly. The form of Diabetic Retinopathy caused by leakage of the retinal blood vessels is called Background Diabetic Retinopathy. Another problem with the retinal blood vessels in diabetes is that they can close. The retinal tissue, which depends on those vessels for nutrition, will no longer work properly. The areas of the retina in which the blood vessels have closed then foster the growth of abnormal new blood vessels that can be very bad for the eye because they can cause bleeding and scar tissue that can result in a total loss of vision. This form of Diabetic Retinopathy is called Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy.
Detection and Diagnosis
A comprehensive medical eye examination and appropriate treatment by an Ophthalmologist is the best protection against eye damage due to Diabetic Retinopathy. Serious Retinopathy can be present without symptoms and improve with treatment.