The retina is composed of a thin layer of light-sensitive cells that covers the inner surface at the back of the eye. Responsible for translating the light that enters the eye into electrochemical messages that can be relayed to the brain these highly sensitive cells are nourished by a complex and delicate network of blood vessels. However, changes in the body’s chemistry can place excessive stress on these blood vessels, causing a condition called retinopathy that can, if left untreated, seriously impair vision. Understanding this condition, which affects more than 4.4 million Americans age 40 and older, can help you avoid long term vision loss.
Retinopathy begins when the blood vessels in the eye grow thin and fragile. Most commonly this is due to the effects of prolonged diabetes, as high blood glucose levels can, over time, cause the blood vessels to break down. Eventually, the walls of the blood vessels grow so thin that blood and other fluids can start to leak into the retina. Those experiencing this level of fluid leakage around the edges of retina often experience no symptoms beyond the appearance of the occasional small “floater” appearing in their field of vision. However, as the condition worsens, new, much weaker, blood vessels grow on the retina. When these break open, which can happen very easily, blood can leak into the middle part of the eye and cause vision to blur. This bleeding can also cause scar tissue to form, which can alter the shape of the retina enough to cause it to move away from the wall of the eye, resulting in retinal detachment. Finally, retinopathy can also cause swelling of the macula, the central portion of the retina responsible for precise detail vision. This condition, called macular edema, can make your vision much worse and can even cause legal blindness.
A good way to prevent diabetic retinopathy from seriously damaging vision is to carefully maintain healthy blood glucose levels, ideally by holding to a healthy diet with an abundance of green, leafy vegetables. High blood pressure, either resulting from stress or chronic hypertension, can also place a severe amount of pressure on the already fragile blood vessels, accelerating the progression of the disease. Patients often fail to notice any symptoms of the disease until the damage has already begun, so having your eyes checked regularly is often the best way to detect retinopathy early enough to treat it and help prevent vision loss.
If you have further questions about how retinopathy can be treated, or about any of the services we offer, please contact Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons today to make an appointment. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more tips for healthy eyes.