Retinopathy

Retinopathy is the most common form of diabetic eye disease. The delicate blood vessel matrix at the back of the eye can be weakened and damaged by prolonged, high glucose levels, leading to damaged vision.

As with a lot of the issues that occur throughout the body due to diabetes, it is down to blood vessels. When they are subjected to carrying blood that is high in sugar, they cannot dilate and relax as easily. This sustained contraction can lead to reduced blood flow and swelling of the delicate vessels in the retina.

With the increased pressure, these vessels can leak and even burst, resulting in fluid on the eye. This can lead to vision blurring, and in extreme cases even blindness.

There are three different type of retinopathy.

Background retinopathy:

This causes no noticeable damage to the vision but can be detected by an ophthalmologist. It should then be monitored in case it develops into proliferative retinopathy.

Proliferative retinopathy:

As background retinopathy develops, it can cause big problems for the vision. As more and more blood vessels are damaged and blocked, new blood vessels grow to replace them, but these new ones can also be prone to bleeding.

As the bleeding heals, it creates scar tissue which contracts and pulls on the retina, damaging and detaching it. This can lead to spots on the vision and eventually vision failure in sections or all of the vision.

Maculopathy:

When background retinopathy occurs around the macula, it results in maculopathy. The macula is the section of the retina that is needed for clear, detailed vision, and is at the centre point, where your vision is focused, in fact the part that is focusing on these words right now.

The vision issues, even if they are not as advanced as proliferative retinopathy, are still likely to be more noticeable and more of an issue as you will be focused on them all the time.

Treatment

There are several methods of treatment, none of which are undertaken during background retinopathy.

Laser treatment can be used to combat both maculopathy and proliferative retinopathy by focusing lasers through the lens and onto the damaged blood vessels. This stops bleeding and prevents any new blood vessels from growing, and consequently leaking, so that the degeneration of that part of the eye should stop. That is not an ultimate cure however, and retinopathy can still occur elsewhere on the eye.

Other diabetic symptoms/complications to be aware of