Diabetic Retinopathy

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What is diabetic retinopathy?

In a person with diabetes mellitus, the body does not use and store sugar properly. High blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels in the retina. This damage to the retinal vessels is referred to as diabetic retinopathy.

A medical eye examination is the best way to detect changes in the eye. An ophthalmologist can diagnose and treat serious retinopathy before the patient is aware of any vision problems. If the doctor finds diabetic retinopathy, he or she may order color photographs of the retina or other special tests.

OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography):
This test consists in a special machine that uses a laser to scan all the layers of the macula to determine if there is any swelling caused by fluid build-up or other changes in the retina that may contribute of loss of vision.

Fluorescein Angiography:
During this test, the doctor injects fluorescein dye into the patients arm. This dye glows in the dark, and while it travels through the patient's retinal vessels, photos are taken of the retina in order to detect whether there is any fluid leaking, new blood vessels growing or a lack of blood flow or oxygen. With this test, the ophthalmologist can determine the best treatment to prevent permanent loss of vision.

The risk of developing diabetic retinopathy increases with time and with a patient's lack of control on the disease. Diabetic retinopathy is commonly present after a patient has been a diabetic for five years and if they don't have good control of their blood sugar levels. Therefore, it is very important to have periodic eye exams, especially if there is a family history of diabetes.

If a patient needs to be examined for eyeglasses, it is important that their blood sugar be consistently under control for several days when they see the eye doctor. Eyeglasses that work well when blood sugar is out of control will not work well when blood sugar is stable.

Rapid changes in blood sugar can cause fluctuating vision in both eyes even if retinopathy is not present.