What is Retinopathy?

A Kaminsky

The most common retinopathy is almost always seen in the phrase "diabetic retinopathy." It is, in effect, the deterioration of the eye's retina caused by diabetes. It is the leading cause of blindness among diabetics.

Anatomy of a healthy human eye.
Anatomy of a healthy human eye.

Long-term diabetes, particularly if it is not well-controlled, almost always leads to circulatory problems. The blood-rich environment of the retina is no exception. Advanced retinopathy occurs when the blood vessels in the retina weaken and leak into the eye, causing clots and blocking vision.

Those at risk for retinopathy should inform their optometrists immediately if they are diabetic.
Those at risk for retinopathy should inform their optometrists immediately if they are diabetic.

Retinopathy is often treated with laser therapy, which effectively seals off the leaky blood vessels in the retina. For more advanced retinopathy, multiple treatments may be necessary. If there is a great deal of blood in the eye, then it may need to be removed through eye surgery.

There are few early warning signs for retinopathy. All those at risk for the disease should have their eyes checked regularly, and should always inform their optometrist that they are diabetic. The best treatment for retinopathy is prevention through controlling blood sugar with diet, medication and exercise.

The other, uncommon kind of retinopathy is that which occurs in very premature babies. It usually corrects itself in the early stages, but can cause severe vision problems if it progresses. Essentially, the normal development of blood vessels in the retina is halted when the baby is born so early. Since premature babies are often unable to maintain their oxygen saturation, and are on supplemental oxygen, the blood vessels do not develop properly to maintain an adequate blood supply to the retina.

A premature baby is usually monitored carefully for signs of the disorder, and the doctor may order a surgical procedure if retinopathy is sufficiently advanced. This will often help preserve the child's vision into adulthood. Retinopathy can rarely be prevented in a premature newborn, but it can often be prevented in diabetics through careful monitoring of one's diet and blood sugar level.

Retinopathy can be treated with laser therapy.
Retinopathy can be treated with laser therapy.

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