Given the slow development of diabetic retinopathy, there can be a significant delay of time between its development and the appearance of symptoms. Because of this, it is especially important for people with a diagnosis of diabetes to have regular eye exams with experienced professionals like those at Vision Quest Eye Care Center, with two convenient locations in Dover and Milford, DE.
Causes and Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy is the result of the occlusion of blood vessels in the retina due to prolonged damage from a history of high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia and high blood pressure, or hypertension. Because of the highly vascularized nature of the retina, there is an opportunity for blood vessels to become blocked, which in turn triggers an inflammatory response that causes blockage of these vessels. When this occurs, new, weak vessels form. Since these newly formed blood vessels are weak, they tend to rupture and leak, leading to the formation of scar tissue and this can result in vision impairment. There are two main categorizations of diabetic retinopathy, known as non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) and proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR). NPDR is less severe of the two, as new blood vessels have not yet formed in the retina. There are three grades of NPDR ranging from mild to moderate to severe. Diabetic retinopathy progresses from NPDR to PDR when new vessels have started to form. Diabetic retinopathy symptoms can be slow to manifest given the time needed for new blood vessel formation; however, when symptoms are apparent, they can be nondescript, such as floaters or dark spots in your field of vision, night vision impairment, blurry vision, and difficulty distinguishing colors. Because these symptoms can mimic other eye conditions, it is important to take note of any abnormal symptoms, no matter how mild when you have a diagnosis of diabetes.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Various methods are used to diagnose diabetic retinopathy, including a dilated eye exam, which is when drops are administered to dilate the pupils, allowing a more thorough look inside the eye. Imaging tests include a fluorescein angiography test where dye is injected into the arm to trace blood flow into the eye and optical coherence tomography, which provides a detailed image of the retina. Numerous options exist for treating diabetic retinopathy. Primarily, measures such as diet and medical management of diabetes and hypertension can be effective in preventing diabetic retinopathy and slowing down its progression already carrying a diagnosis. Other options such as anti-VEGF, or anti-vascular endothelial growth factor injections have started to become the standard of care due to their high effectiveness. This inhibits abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina. Additionally, surgery including photocoagulation or vitrectomy may be used in more severe cases of diabetic retinopathy.
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