Diabetic Retinopathy, or DR, is a complication of diabetes that affects the blood vessels at the back of the eye on the retina. This affects about 35% of diabetic patients.
Too much sugar in the blood causes damage throughout the body, including the tiny blood vessels in the retina. These blood vessels can leak blood and other fluid, and new blood vessels may grow to provide greater circulation, but also leak as they tend to be more fragile.
Sugar levels that are not properly managed can also lead to changes in prescription due to fluid accumulation in the crystalline lens, a part that controls your eye’s focusing ability.
Your risk increases if you have had diabetes for a long time or if your blood sugar is not well-controlled, together with smoking and other health conditions such as high blood pressure.
In the early stages, tiny bulges in the retinal blood vessels may form, but may not immediately cause any symptoms. Hence, monitoring is key, together with good management of diabetes. You should visit your eye doctor regularly even if you do not feel that there is anything wrong with your vision. In the later stages, changes to vision can occur due to the leakage of blood or swelling of the central portion of the retina. This can cause you to see spots in your vision, or reduce your visual acuity, meaning more difficulty in seeing fine details. Subsequently, complications such as glaucoma and retinal detactment, both sight-threatening conditions, can occur. Treatments such as injections to slow down the growth of new blood vessels, use of laser to seal off leaky blood vessels, and replacement of the vitreous jelly that fills the eye may be needed in severe cases. Any changes in your vision, such as seeing new floaters (link) or sudden blur, should be evaluated by an eye doctor immediately.