Diabetic eye disease is the term that refers to a group of eye problems which typically affects people suffering from diabetes. Diabetic eye disease includes several conditions: diabetic retinopathy, cataract and glaucoma. Diabetic retinopathy is the most frequent of all three diabetic eye diseases and is potentially disabling since if left untreated it causes blindness.
Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy goes through four stages. The first one is mild nonproliferative retinopathy which features with microaneurysms. In the second stage, moderate nonproliferative retinopathy, some blood vessels in charge of blood supply to the retina become blocked. The third stage, severe nonproliferative retinopathy features with blockage of many blood vessels of the retina which leads to inappropriate blood supply to several areas of the organ. And finally, the fourth stage, proliferative retinopathy, is an advanced stage of the disease. It typically features with the growth of new blood vessels. Such vessels are abnormal and highly fragile. These newly formed blood vessels grow along the retina and the vitreous gel. Since they are fragile they are susceptible to leakage and the released blood is actually responsible for symptoms as well as serious complications of the disease.
Clinical Characteristics of Diabetic Retinopathy
There are no symptoms in the initial stage of the disease. Diabetic retinopathy can be timely diagnosed if the patient regularly visits his/her ophthalmologist. Once the symptoms occur the condition has significantly progressed. Blurred vision is one of the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy. It develops as a consequence of leakage from newly formed retinal blood vessels and edema of the macula (the part of the retina responsible for sharp central vision). Furthermore, patients commonly report seeing a few specks of blood or spots that 'float' in the field of view. Such symptoms require proper evaluation.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy
The condition can be easily diagnosed during thorough examination by a well-experienced ophthalmologist. The doctor performs a comprehensive eye exam which includes visual acuity test, dilate eye exam and tonometry.
The first three stages of diabetic retinopathy do not require treatment. Only patients with macular edema should be treated. On the other side, the last stage, proliferative diabetic retinopathy must be treated as soon as the diagnosis is established. Such patients undergo laser surgery. The procedure called scatter laser surgery effectively shrinks the abnormal and newly formed blood vessels in the retina. Usually there is a need for several sessions. This treatment may cause some loss of the side vision, reduce color vision and night vision but it generally saves the rest of the sight that would be definitely lost if the condition was left untreated.