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What Is Diabetic Retinopathy

Posted by Avery Chernin on

What Is Diabetic Retinopathy

Of all the challenging health complications that come along with diabetes, retinopathy may be the worst.

If you have diabetes or are familiar with diabetes, you've probably heard of neuropathy, which is generally felt as tingling or numbness of the fingers or toes.

(Side note: in case you aren't familiar with neuropathy and want to read up on it, you can visit this article called: What Is Diabetic Neuropathy.)

This tingling or numbness is caused by nerve damage in the extremities, and if left unchecked can lead to amputations.

And while that may sound bad, it pales in comparison to diabetic retinopathy.

What Is Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition affecting the retina in the eye (hence the name: retinopathy).

The retina is responsible for sensing light and relaying this information from your eyes to your occipital lobe where this information gets processed and a picture of the world gets constructed.

Similar to neuropathy, retinopathy occurs on a spectrum and can get worse over time if diabetes and blood sugar levels are left unchecked.

The Symptoms Of Retinopathy

Retinopathy can first appear as:

  • Blurred vision
  • Dark spots or floaters in the visual field
  • Fluctuations in vision
  • Dark or empty spots in the visual field
  • Vision loss, typically beginning in the periphery

Over time, retinopathy can progress into full fledged blindness.

What Causes Retinopathy

Retinopathy is caused by damage to the blood vessels that supply blood to the retina in the back of the eye.

This damage occurs due to elevated blood sugar levels, which can build up and block the blood vessels from delivering fresh blood to the retina. This causes starvation of the retina and can lead to vision loss and blindness if left untreated.

Can Retinopathy Be Prevented?

Because retinopathy develops over time as a result of elevated blood sugar, the best way to prevent it from developing is to keep blood sugar levels under control.

Consistent checkups to measure your A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol can help give you an idea of how your diabetes is progressing and if your current treatment plan is working.

If your A1C levels are rising, it's a good indication that whatever you are currently doing isn't working for you, and you may want to try a different approach to manage your diabetes.

Remember, medications alone will not reverse diabetes. They can help manage the symptoms and keep blood sugar levels steady for awhile, but the only thing that can truly put diabetes into remission is a change in your diet or exercise habits.

Smoking tobacco can also exacerbate retinopathy, so if you're a smoker and beginning to see the signs of retinopathy, you should seriously consider making an effort to quit.

Closing Thoughts

Of all the complications that go along with diabetes, retinopathy may be the worst.

Going blind is a lot of people's worst nightmares, and unfortunately this nightmare can become a reality if blood sugar levels are left unchecked and untreated.

Fortunately, there are a wide variety of ways to manage blood sugar levels.

Medications can help manage and slow the progression, while lifestyle changes such as eating a low-carb diet and doing a moderate amount of exercise can have a tremendous benefit on blood sugar and can even put diabetes into remission.