Retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in the United States and North America. Specifically, this refers to people who have been living a life with diabetes after a couple of decades. Long-term diabetes means that people with diabetes will show signs of retinal damage and this risk.
Retinopathy is an umbrella to describe damage to the retinal blood vessels. Hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes are the most significant causes. Though anemia, lupus and sickle cell disease also play their part along with other underlying conditions. That said, it's also seen in newborns who have not had the time to develop these conditions. Alone, hypertension rarely impairs vision. But if it develops into hypertensive retinopathy blockage to retinal veins and arteries is common. Both smoking and long-term diabetes increase the risk of developing hypertensive retinopathy.
Management of the underlying conditions which cause retinopathy is key to avoiding it or lessening its severity. With diabetes, this, of course, means blood sugar level management. You certainly should be doing this as a person with diabetes in the first place as this is key. In addition to lowering your chance of developing retinopathy, it's likely your doctor's most substantial concern. Keep your cholesterol down with exercise and possibly medication if your doctor prescribes it. The same with lupus and sickle-cell, manage it. Unfortunately, pregnancy and being African-American, Hispanic or Native American presents a higher risk, but there is little that can be done about that.
Quite simply quitting smoking will lessen your chance of developing retinopathy. No, it's not easy, and there are doctors and laypeople alike who have suggested that it is a habit as difficult to quit as heroin and other opioids along with other addictive substances. Of all the risks for retinopathy, this is the single factor that you and only you control. Consult your doctor if you truly wish to quit and see what your options are.
Once diagnosed with diabetes, you will have a life full of forced choices, and some do not always make the correct ones for a full life, by managing their blood sugar levels. This causes damage to blood cells around the retina which can the leak and affect vision with the fats and liquids that escape these cells. These leaks also limit the effectiveness of these cells in bringing oxygen to these cells as well potentially causing further damage.
Unfortunately, this is only the beginning. As this continues, your doctor may diagnose you with proliferative retinopathy. At this stage, new blood vessels still grow, but their fragility leads to bursting and bleeding into the eye.
While hypertensive retinopathy takes longer to develop and a person may exhibit no symptoms for decades it continues to build until the body's high blood pressure damages the walls of cells which both narrows and thickens them which slows oxygen flow to the retina over time. Like diabetic retinopathy, this also leads to blood working its way into the retina causing problems with vision and ultimately serious damage.
Now that you know what you're dealing with the different types of retinopathy be it's time to understand what you may start dealing with over time especially if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, smoke or have another underlying condition that could cause retinopathy.
Remember we are talking about a degenerative disease and you may suffer only one or slowly begin to suffer from one or more of the following symptoms: Blurred vision, floating spots, blind spots, sudden loss of vision, changing color perception, double vision, and even severe eye pain.
If you are someone who now knows that they have higher risk factors, regular trips to an ophthalmologist or at least routine physicals may reward you with an early diagnosis. Light is introduced to the retina allowing a doctor to look for signs of microaneurysms and dilated vessels around the retina. Retinal photos are used after injecting a dye into a vein and looking for leaking blood cells. Narrowing and thickening in blood vessels in other regions of the body for those with hypertensive retinopathy may also allow your doctor to catch retinal degeneration issues earlier.
This can't be repeated enough. As a person with diabetes, whether type-1 or type-2, you're already at an increased risk for developing retinopathy. While that may sound horrible, like diabetes, it's manageable through diet, exercise, controlling your blood sugar levels and absolutely quitting smoking. For those that have high blood pressure, there are new medications each year that your doctor may suggest in the aim to lower your blood pressure, but obviously, diet and exercise are an important part of your plan as well.
Unfortunately, for many prevention and the slowing of the condition has come too late and more invasive procedures are available to you and your doctor. Your doctor may determine that laser surgery may now be needed, and the technology has been around for decades. Photocoagulation uses a beam of light (laser) to make numerous small burns in the hope of trying to seal existing links.
When blood vessel growth in the retina becomes even more of a problem for those with proliferative diabetic retinopathy, the doctor may look to a laser to again attack these growing cells. Unfortunately, depending on severity, the doctor may look to sacrifice side vision to keep your central vision intact the best they can.
In the sad event that you become a low vision or blind patient. An eye care professional will surely look to get you into rehabilitation or look for devices to improve what vision you have left.
Additionally, much work and money has gone into the development of artificial retinas and retina chips in the last couple of decades and progress is being made each year.
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