Diabetic Retinopathy


If you suffer from diabetes, your body struggles to both store and process sugars. Even if your sugar levels are adequately managed, the blood vessels in your eye are still susceptible to damage and at risk of developing a condition known as diabetic retinopathy.

Statistically, individuals with diabetes are up to 25 times more likely to develop severe and permanent vision loss than those without the disease. If you suffer from diabetes, please contact Kirk Eye Center today by completing the form on this page or calling 970-669-1107 to schedule a consultation with Dr. John Kirk. We welcome patients from Loveland, Fort Collins, Windsor and throughout Northern Colorado.

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What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?

fort collins diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition in which high blood sugar levels damage retinal blood vessels, harming the retina and causing loss of vision.

Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) is the early stage of the condition and can occur at any time following the onset of diabetes. In this stage, the tiny blood vessels in the back of the eye expand, forming pockets that damage the retina. Although visual symptoms are seldom present, an examination can identify small hemorrhages known as microaneurysms.

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) occurs when weakened retinal blood vessels close off and new blood vessels are created. The new blood vessels scar the retina. Compared to other diabetic eye diseases, PDR holds the greatest risk of vision loss and is the primary cause of blindness in working-age adults. Our Fort Collins diabetic retinopathy eye doctor can diagnose and treat this condition.

Risk Factors for Diabetic Retinopathy

Your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy increases the longer you have had diabetes and the less you manage your blood sugar levels.

You can also be at higher risk for the condition if you:

  • Have high cholesterol
  • Use tobacco
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Are pregnant

While long-term diabetes and fluctuating blood sugar levels increase the risk for diabetic retinopathy, not all diabetics will develop the disease. In addition to attentively managing your diabetes, it is important to visit with an experienced ophthalmologist and establish an examination schedule appropriate to your unique situation.

Signs and Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

The early stages of diabetic retinopathy can be nearly undetectable. Symptoms can include:

  • Double vision
  • Difficulty reading or performing close-up tasks
  • Eye floaters and spots
  • Eye pain or discomfort
  • Distorted or blurry vision
  • Involuntary eye movement
  • Development of a shadow effect in your field of view

During your eye exam at Kirk Eye Center, Dr. Kirk will look for other retinal damage, such as retinal swelling or leakage from blood vessels.

How Does Diabetes Affect the Eyes?

When you have diabetes, you have too much glucose in your blood. Consistently elevated glucose levels damage blood vessels throughout your body. In the eyes, where the blood vessels are tiny, sugar can cause blockages in the vessels that feed the retina and delicate macular tissue at its center. These blockages can cause the blood vessels to leak fluid into the eye. The body may also grow new blood vessels in the eye to counter those that have been damaged. However, these new blood vessels are unhealthy and usually leak even more blood, causing damage to surrounding tissues.

How Is Diabetic Retinopathy Diagnosed?

Diabetic retinopathy is diagnosed via a dilated eye exam. In fact, this painless exam may be the first time you learn about this condition. To check your eyes, the doctor inserts special drops that cause your pupil to dilate (widen). This allows them to observe the back of your eye very easily using a special lens. The examination of your blood vessels, retina, and optic nerve provides the doctor with indications regarding your overall eye health and risk for diabetic retinopathy. If, during your exam, the doctor notices abnormalities in the blood vessels near your retina, they may order an additional test that takes pictures of these vessels. 

When Should a Diabetic Have a Complete Eye Exam?

If you have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, you should schedule an eye exam right away. Tell your ophthalmologist that you have diabetes and how long ago you were diagnosed. This initial comprehensive eye exam will look at all parts of your eye for signs of blood vessel swelling or leaking, as well as the development of new blood vessels. It will observe your retina for signs of early detachment or blood accumulation. If you have been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, you should have a comprehensive eye exam within five years of receiving your diagnosis. Once you see your ophthalmologist for your first comprehensive eye exam, they will let you know how often you should return and also what signs you should look for to recognize the potential onset of diabetic retinopathy.

Can It Be Cured?

Diabetic retinopathy cannot be cured. The longer you have diabetes, and the more unregulated your blood sugar is, the greater your risk of developing problems with your eye health. When you are diagnosed with diabetes, you can begin to reduce your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by working with your doctor, dietician, or other healthcare professional to regular your blood sugar and keep it that way. The more regulated you can keep your glucose levels, the better your chances are of avoiding damage to your ocular blood vessels. If you notice signs of diabetic retinopathy or your ophthalmologist sees signs of blood vessel damage, early treatment can slow or halt the progression of your disease. 

What Complications Can Occur from Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a serious eye disease that requires prompt and ongoing care. At the center of the retina is a delicate piece of tissue called the macula. When blood and fluid accumulate on and around the retina, the macula can swell. This is referred to as diabetic macular edema. There is also a heightened risk for neovascular glaucoma in patients with diabetic retinopathy. This condition of increased intraocular pressure (which can damage the optic nerve) occurs when abnormal blood vessel growth prevents fluid from draining properly out of the eye. Finally, the accumulation of fluid around the retina can cause this tissue to pull away from the back of the eye. This is referred to as retinal detachment.

What Happens if Diabetic Retinopathy Is Not Addressed?

Statistics point to retinopathy as a leading cause of blindness among adults aged 20 to 60. Without treatment, diabetic retinopathy will very likely worsen to a point at which your vision becomes increasingly impaired. The disease can destroy small bits of vision at a time, none of which can be restored. To preserve your vision, it is imperative to receive adequate care for diabetes as well as the eye conditions it may cause. 

Treating Diabetic Retinopathy

The most effective treatment for diabetic retinopathy is prevention. This is why it is important to catch the condition in its early stages. Early detection can help most people avoid blindness through early intervention. If you are diabetic, it is often a good idea to receive a thorough eye exam at least once a year. During your initial visit with Dr. Kirk, he will assess your ocular health and recommend a plan that is right for you.

Kirk Eye Center can address your diabetic retinopathy with treatments such as:

  • Injected medication: These can include Lucentis, Eylea and Avastin.
  • Vitrectomy: This treatment removes the vitreous gel from the eye that has been contaminated with blood or is affecting the retina. This gel is then replaced with a clear fluid.
  • Laser retina treatment: A comfortable procedure which seals leaking blood vessels and eliminates abnormal blood vessels.
    You can also practice self care by:
  • Closely following your doctor’s advice and recommendations
  • Maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise routine
  • Monitoring your blood sugar and blood pressure to keep both under control

It’s important to manage any related conditions, such as hypertension to get the best results. Dr. Kirk regularly communicates with patients’ primary care doctors to ensure other related conditions are under control.

Schedule a Fort Collins Diabetic Retinopathy Consultation

If you are diabetic, don’t postpone your eye care until it is too late. Schedule your Fort Collins diabetic retinopathy treatment today by contacting Kirk Eye Center online or at 970-669-1107. We proudly serve the Loveland, Fort Collins and Windsor areas of Northern Colorado.

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