What Is Retinopathy?

Mar 02, 2021
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Blurry vision, floating specks, and difficulty focusing may be signs that you need a break from your computer, or they may indicate retinopathy, which is the term for retina damage. The only way to know for sure is to get an eye exam.

Retinopathy is an umbrella term that describes damage to your retina, the part of your eye that detects light. The warning signs may be subtle or even nonexistent, so it’s important to have regular exams to watch for problems with your eyes.

Dr. Sophia Barnes at Vision Corner in Houston, Texas, cares for patients with varying types and stages of retinopathy. She can help halt the progression and severe damage of this potentially blinding disease. Here’s what you need to know.

Retinopathy 101

Your retina is on the backside of your eyeball. It’s a very thin layer of tissue that receives light through the eye’s lens. The retina’s job is to convert the information it receives into neural signals that it then sends through the nearby optic nerve and on to your brain. 

When you see a ball, you can thank your lens, which focuses the light from the object onto your retina, which absorbs it through light-sensitive photoreceptors and allows your brain to recognize the object as a ball.

If anything damages your retina or its blood vessels (retinopathy), you’re at high risk for vision impairment or loss. 

Types of retinopathy

Several different conditions can lead to retinopathy.

Retinopathy of prematurity

When babies are born prematurely, parts of their anatomy may not be fully developed. This is especially true of the blood vessels in the retina. Premature birth and low birth weight can cause mild retinopathy, with or without symptoms; in extreme cases, it may cause the retina to detach, resulting in blindness.

Hypertensive retinopathy

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is another common factor in retinopathy. Just as high blood pressure can damage arteries throughout your body, it can also affect the tiny blood vessels in your retina, causing swelling or bleeding. It may affect your optic nerve as well.

Central serous retinopathy

Central serous retinopathy occurs when excess fluid builds up in the retina and settles between the membrane layers, causing blurry vision and difficulty seeing at night.

Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy accounts for the lion’s share of all blindness cases and is the No. 1 cause of vision loss in people with diabetes. There are two types of diabetic retinopathy:

  • Nonproliferative retinopathy, in which vessels become blocked or deformed and retained fluid causes blurred vision
  • Proliferative retinopathy, in which new (but weak) vessels grow but then leak or cause scarring or irritation

Diabetic retinopathy is a direct result of uncontrolled blood sugar levels. Sustained high blood sugar can damage any of your blood vessels, and your retina is an easy target.

Retinopathy symptoms

Often, retinopathy doesn’t let you know it’s lurking, and symptoms may only become noticeable once the problem has reached advanced stages. However, here are some of the classic symptoms that may indicate retinopathy and should definitely alert you that you need to see Dr. Barnes for an eye exam:

  • Blurry vision
  • Floating specks or dark strings in your field of vision
  • Poor night vision
  • Temporary loss of vision
  • Blocked portions of vision
  • Distorted shapes
  • Flashing lights

If you do experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to call us right away so we can determine whether you have retinopathy or any other condition. Left untreated, eye conditions can lead to partial or complete vision loss.

Testing for retinopathy

If you’re at risk for or have symptoms of retinopathy, Dr. Barnes uses the latest technology to assess your eye health and quickly diagnose your condition.


Using digital retinal screening technology, optomap takes a quick and painless image of your retina. In most cases, Dr. Barnes can get a look at your retina without having to dilate your pupils, so the procedure is comfortable.

The optomap reveals any abnormal blood vessel growth in your retina so Dr. Barnes can recommend the right treatment or monitor your condition.

Optovue OCT

A type of CT scan, the optovue OCT (optical coherence tomography) delivers a high-resolution, 3D image that allows Dr. Barnes to see a cross section of your retina. This helps her determine which type of retinopathy you have and how advanced it is.

If you have retinopathy, Dr. Barnes keeps a close watch to make sure it doesn’t progress and cause irreparable damage. She also advises you about lifestyle changes you can make, such as controlling your blood pressure and blood sugar. If necessary, she can refer you for injections of corticosteroids or laser surgical treatment.

Don’t lose sight of what’s important. Contact us at Vision Corner in Houston if you experience any abnormal vision issues.