What Is Retinopathy? Symptoms, Treatment, And More

The primary global cause of avoidable blindness is retinal disease. Nearly one in three persons with diabetes over the age of 40 will acquire this ailment, which goes by the name “diabetic retinopathy” and is typically seen in patients with diabetes. Learn more about retinopathy’s signs & symptoms, risk factors, and available therapies.


What Is Retinopathy?

Blood vessel damage to the retina, a delicate region in the back of the eye, is a defining feature of retinal disease. Your retinas have a tougher time communicating with the brain along the optic nerve when these arteries are injured. Blindness may result from this. A yearly dilated eye exam is crucial if you have diabetes because the early stages of retinopathy rarely result in symptoms.

You should be under a doctor’s supervision if you have diabetes. They will routinely examine you for diabetic retinopathy because they are aware of its hazards. As a result, there will be a lower chance of the situation getting worse.


What Causes Retinopathy?

The main factor causing retinopathy is diabetes-related elevated blood sugar. All blood arteries are harmed by diabetes. Due to a severe decrease of blood flow to their limbs, many persons with severe diabetes need to have their limbs amputated.

Similar damage can occur to the blood vessels close to the retinas in the back of the eye. Blood flow can become impeded by the emergence of aneurysms and tiny breaks in the arteries near the rear of the eye. This reduces the retina’s capacity to communicate with the brain via the optic nerve, which may result in blindness.

Can retinopathy occur in people without diabetes? The short answer is yes, although this condition typically manifests in older and middle-aged individuals with a variety of prior conditions, including:

  • Lupus: A chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and pain throughout the body.
  • Sickle cell disease: A condition that changes the shape of red blood cells and slows down blood flow to the body.


Risk Factors

There are some persons who are more susceptible to acquiring diabetic retinopathy. It’s critical to be aware of these risk factors and to recognize any of them that increase your likelihood of developing this ailment. Risk elements consist of:

  • Length of time you’ve had diabetes: the longer you’ve had diabetes, the higher your risk.
  • High blood pressurehypertension can cause retinopathy on its own. When combined with diabetes, retinopathy likelihood increases greatly.
  • Tobacco use: smokers are more at risk.
  • High blood sugar: if your blood sugar is consistently high or you are not regularly taking your prescribed insulin, you are more at risk.
  • Cholesterol: if you have a history of high cholesterol, you are at a higher risk.


Stages of Retinopathy

Retinopathy is a disease that progresses over time, meaning it gets worse. Three distinct phases are present:

Stage I–Background Retinopathy

The blood vessels at the back of your eye develop small bulges at this period, which might cause bleeding. This does not impair your vision and is very typical in diabetics. Although there is no need for treatment at this point, you should work with your doctor to maintain stable blood sugar levels to stop the condition from worsening.

Stage II–Pre-Proliferative Retinopathy

More changes, including bleeding, take place around your retina at this stage. At this stage, your vision will likely be compromised. To monitor for additional disease progression, your doctor will advise more frequent screenings.

Stage III–Proliferative Retinopathy

Near the retina, new blood vessels start to form at this stage. These have the potential to burst or bleed, resulting in pain, a retinal detachment, and increasingly severe vision loss. In order to prevent blindness, your doctor may treat the blood vessel damage. Unfortunately, there is no way to undo the harm that has already been done.

Diabetic maculopathy is a type of retinopathy that affects the blood vessels in the macula, the center of the retina. Fine vision, which is needed for close-up tasks like reading, is controlled by the macula. Serious harm can be done to this delicate area of the eye.


Symptoms of Retinopathy

Since retinopathy takes years to develop, the majority of people don’t show any symptoms for a considerable amount of time. When symptoms do occur, they often do so gradually and advance slowly. These signs include:

  • Gradually worsening vision
  • Floaters in your vision
  • Eye redness
  • Pain in the eyes
  • Worsening night vision
  • Sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes

Retinopathy worsens over time, especially if you don’t talk to your doctor about these alarming changes in vision, and it can finally result in total blindness. It’s critical to get regular examinations with your primary care physician and to see an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) once a year to look for indications of blood vessel damage in the retina.



What can you do to lower your risk of developing retinopathy?

  • Meticulous attention to your diabetes is the most effective way to prevent retinopathy. Regulation of blood sugar is important for managing all aspects of diabetes, not just your vision.
  • Yearly comprehensive dilated eye exams can help your doctors identify signs of early retinopathy and attempt to stop or slow the progression of the disease.
  • Limit your alcohol, sugar, fat, and salt intake, as these can increase blood sugar and cholesterol.
  • Monitor and manage your blood pressure. Normal blood pressure levels are typically 120/80 or below.


How Is Retinopathy Treated?

Retinopathy, however, has no known treatment. However, some medical procedures can prevent additional harm. Only severe vision impairment in advanced cases is advised for treatment. For diabetic retinopathy, three common therapies exist:

  • Eye injections: this treatment can stop or slow the progression of the disease, potentially saving your vision. The medication in these injections is called anti-VEGF, which slows down the growth of new blood vessels.
  • Laser treatment: ophthalmologists can use laser treatment to shrink the blood vessels near the retina and reduce swelling in the eye.
  • Surgery: if there is significant scarring or bleeding in the retina, your ophthalmologist may recommend a surgery called vitrectomy. In this surgery, most of your vitreous humor (the gel-like fluid that fills your eye) is removed and replaced by a clearer gel to improve vision. They may also inject a bubble of air or gas to fill the void the vitreous left behind. This holds your retina in place.
  • Medication: Limited evidence suggests that a cholesterol medication called fenofibrate can slow the progression of retinopathy. However, there are still studies on this treatment, and it’s not available for general use.


Next Steps

There are resources available if you have retinopathy or are at risk of developing it. For those whose eyesight is deteriorating due to retinopathy, VisionAware is a website with advice, symptom management techniques, and information. Check out this manual on managing diabetes and eyesight loss.

Additionally, to monitor for signs of retinopathy or disease development, it’s crucial to schedule routine visits with your general care physician and your ophthalmologist.


By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter

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