Diabetic retinopathy is eye damage, specifically to the retina, that is caused by diabetes. It can lead to blindness if not treated promptly. Most people with diabetes who have complications of diabetes that affect the eye only experience minor eye conditions and mild visual impairment.
The most common form of diabetic retinopathy is called nonproliferative retinopathy. Nonproliferative retinopathy causes the capillaries, tiny blood vessels, of the eyes to weaken. The capillaries balloon and become blocked.
The body naturally tries to replace these compromised capillaries, but the new capillaries are weak. These new, weak capillaries have a tendency to fail and leak blood into the vitreous of the eye. When blood invades the vitreous part of the eye, vision is blocked. This is called a vitreous hemorrhage.
The prevention of blindness from diabetic retinopathy is best if treatment is sought immediately after the onset of symptoms. Laser treatments target the failing capillaries to prevent them from causing further damage. Laser treatments do not reverse any vision loss or visual impairment. Potential side effects of some laser treatments include temporary blurry vision and loss of peripheral vision.
In severe cases, a vitrectomy may be necessary. A vitrectomy is a surgical procedure during which blood is removed from the vitreous. Any scar tissue that formed as a resut of the diabetic retinopathy is also removed during the surgery. If the retina has become attached, an attempt to reattach the retina is usually made during the vitrectomy. The reattachment of the retina is only successful in about half the cases.
In addition to diabetic retinopathy, diabetic patients are at greater risk for developing glaucoma and cataracts. The best way to avoid blindness and other serious complications of diabetes is to manage blood glucose levels and seek prompt medical attention as soon as the symptoms of a complication arise.