What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes. It occurs when the blood vessels in the retina (the thin layer of light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye) are damaged or altered, usually as a result of high blood sugar levels. There are various levels of severity of diabetic retinopathy, and at each stage, there are things which can be done to prevent the condition from worsening. 

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the primary causes of blindness amongst working age people in the UK, however, if you have diabetes you won’t necessarily be affected by this condition. If you are affected and all appropriate steps are taken to manage your diabetes, it’s possible that your retinopathy won’t require any medical treatment. 

Factors that make the development of diabetic retinopathy more likely include having diabetes for a long time, having high blood sugar levels, having high blood pressure, being pregnant and having diabetes controlled with insulin.

Anatomy of the eye 

Anatomy of the eye

  • Retina – the light-sensitive lining of the eye
  • Optic disc – the head of the optic nerve
  • Fovea – (also known as the ‘centre of vision’) a dip in the back of the eye, lined with a high concentration of visual cells
  • Macula – the area of the retina around the fovea
  • Optic nerve – transmits visual information from the eye to the brain
  • Choroid – the vascular layer of the eye; between the retina and the sclera
  • Iris – the coloured part of the eye, responsible for light regulation
  • Lens – the crystalline body behind the iris, responsible for focusing light into the fovea
  • Pupil – the hole in the centre of the iris
  • Cornea – the transparent outer layer of the front of the eye, responsible for starting to focus light
  • Sclera – the white outer layer of the eye
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