What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common eye condition for people with diabetes. It is caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye, known as the retina. 

The retina is the light-sensitive layer of cells at the back of the eye that converts light into electrical signals. These signals are sent to the brain which interprets them as the images we see. The retina receives a constant supply of blood through tiny blood vessels. However, over time, a consistently high blood sugar level can damage these blood vessels.

Diabetic retinopathy takes several years to threaten your eye-sight, and if left undiagnosed can cause blindness.


How do I know if I have diabetic retinopathy?

Usually, there are no symptoms until the condition reaches a later stage when changes in vision will become noticeable. Anyone diagnosed with diabetes is eligible for a free sight test every year, and in addition to this people with diabetes who are over 12 are invited for free annual retinal screening. During this screening, a photograph of the back of the eye will be taken that will pick up any signs of the condition.


Is there a treatment available for diabetic retinopathy?

In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, no treatment is needed. The condition can be managed by controlling blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol. 

When the condition is more advanced, laser surgery is used to shrink the problematic blood vessels. Laser surgery reduces the risk of blindness by up to 90% but it can’t restore any vision that has already been lost. It also works best when it’s performed before the blood vessels have swollen and started leaking fluid, so early detection is vital.


How do I get help?

If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, it’s important that you have regular eye checks as early detection of diabetic retinopathy is the best way to protect against vision loss. If you’re worried you may have diabetic retinopathy you should book an appointment with your Optician or doctor at the earliest opportunity.

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