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Diabetic Retinopathy

The effect of diabetes on the eye is called Diabetic Retinopathy. It is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina.

The effects of diabetes on the retina are the most serious threat to vision and most people develop changes in the retina after living with diabetes for 15 years or more. Those at risk include people with Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes and diabetes patients who are pregnant.

People with diabetes will have regular assessments to determine and monitor the health of their eyes. During these assessments, eyes are checked for signs of Diabetic Retinopathy

Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Blurred Vision (linked to blood sugar levels)
  • Floaters and Flashers
  • Sudden Loss of Vision

Diabetic retinopathy may occur due to changes in blood vessels in the retina. In some cases it can cause blood vessels to swell and leak or abnormal blood vessels to grow on the surface of the retina.

At first you may not notice any change in your vision but overtime diabetic retinopathy may cause vision to decrease.

Diabetic patients will have regular assessments to monitor the eye health of their eyes and identify any problems that may be developing. During these assessments, eyes are checked for signs of diabetic eetinopathy.

At the Mater Private Retinal Cclinic a variety of examinations are used for the diagnosis of all retinal conditions incuding:

  • Visual Acuity: measures how well you see at various distances.
  • Slit Lamp Examination: examines your eye under high magnification.
  • Tonometry: measures the pressure in the eye.
  • Eye Examination: where drops are used to dilate the pupil and examine the retina in detail.
  • Amsler Grid: a lined grid used to check for distorted or missing lines

Following these initial tests, a series of retinal examinations will be carried out in order to investigate what damage the diabetic retinopathy might be causing: 

  • Color Fundus Photography: photography of the fundus (inner lining of the eye) to produce a sharp photograph of the retina and the blood vessels.
  • Fluorescein Angiogram: a special dye is injected into a vein in the arm, as the dye passes through the blood vessels in the retina a photograph of the eye is taken
  • Indocyanine Green Angiography: similar to the fluorescein angiography, using indocyanine green dye.
  • Optical Coherence Tomography: 3D scans of the layers of the macula part of the retina.

Our advice is that you should not wait for the signs and symptoms of diabetic retinopathy to appear. If you suffer from diabetes, it is vitally important the you attend a comprehensive eye examination every year.

There are 4 stages of diabetic retinopathy:

  • Stage 1 – swelling can occur in the retina’s tiny blood vessels
  • Stage 2 – some blood vessels that nourish the retina are blocked
  • Stage 3 – more blood vessels can become blocked and the retina sends signals to the body to grow new blood vessels
  • Stage 4 – new blood vessels grow. They have thin and fragile walls which, if they leak blood, which may lead to vision loss

For the first 3 stages of the condition, you may not have any symptoms and not need any treatment. However, to prevent the progression of diabetic retinopathy, control is very important.

  • Control Blood Sugars
  • Control Blood Pressure
  • Control Blood Cholesterol

For the 4th stage, some of the following treatments may be prescribed by your Retinal Specialist Consultant:

  • Scatter Laser: treatment to shrink the new blood vessels. You may need two or more laser treatments. Colour and night vision may be reduced.
  • Focal Laser: treatment to slow leakage of fluid and reduce the amount fluid in the retina. This may reduce vision loss up to 50%.
  • Injections: steroid injections may be given to reduce swelling at the back of the eye. This can help to slow down vision loss. 
  • Vitrectomy: a surgical procedure which removes blood from the centre of your eye to restore vision.