Diabetic retinopathy is one of the commonly seen complications of diabetes, a potentially blinding condition in which there is damage to blood vessels supplying the retina. Retina is the vital light sensitive layer of the eyes, which perceives light signals and transforms them to electrical signals. These electrical signals are then transmitted to the brain where the image is formed. Nature has richly supplied the retina with blood vessels to maintain its adequate nutrition that is essential for the accurate functioning of retina. However, in diabetic patients, persistent high blood sugar damages the blood vessels, making them leaky and permeable. Once the blood supply to the retina is compromised, the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy start to surface.
The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy don’t appear all of a sudden as it is a slow and gradual process in which there is progressive loss of vision. Due to the insidious nature of diabetic retinopathy, a diabetic may remain unaware of the visual changes because the symptoms don’t show up in early stages. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetics are at the equal risk of developing retinopathy. The likelihood of developing diabetic retinopathy depends on the duration of diabetes. The longer you have been suffering from diabetes, the more likely you are to develop retinopathy.
Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy
Depending on the time of manifestation of symptoms, diabetic retinopathy is categorized into two stages:
- Non proliferative diabetic retinopathy:
It is the early asymptomatic phase in which the visual changes are minimum and the patient can barely notice them. In this phase, the blood vessels swell and become leaky, causing fluid to ooze out of them. The damage to retina is minimal, so are the apparent symptoms.
- Proliferative diabetic retinopathy:
In this advanced stage of retinopathy, the vision starts deteriorating and the sufferer starts to notice changes in vision. In this phase, persistent reduced blood supply to retinal nerve cells stimulates the abnormal growth of new blood vessels that is followed by bleeding, cloudy vision, scarring and detachment of retina. Once the retinal nerve cells are damaged, there is nothing that can be done to revert it and the vision loss becomes permanent.
Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy
Most of the times, it happens that the patient remains unaware of retinopathy in the early stages despite having underlying hidden retinopathy. But, as the disease progresses, it may present with the following symptoms:
- Blurred vision
- Dark spots, shapes and floaters in the field of vision
- Sudden vision loss
- Poor color perception or difficulty in differentiating colors
- Seeing flashes of light or ring around the light
- Cloudiness of vision
- Fluctuating vision
- Distortion of images
- Double vision
- Pain in eye
- Loss of night vision
If any diabetic patient observes any of the above mentioned symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, he or she must reckon it as a danger sign and seek for a medical checkup immediately. Diabetic patient are always recommended to get a proper eye checkup after every few month in order to monitor the retinal changes and to diagnose retinopathy in its early stages. It is necessary to halt the progression of retinopathy in its early stages because once it progresses to an advanced stage, the loss of vision becomes permanent.