Diabetes can cause damage to the blood vessels in the eyes, a condition called diabetic retinopathy. This damage can cause new blood vessels to grow over the retina that can bring about scar tissues and brush-like branches in the retina. Some patients may experience swelling of the retina, while others develop blood leaks. These can distort or blur the images that the retina transmits to the brain.
Diabetic retinopathy treatment is necessary to correct this problem. If left untreated, this condition can lead to blindness. Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes.
Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty in reading
- Sudden loss of sight in one eye
- Flashing lights or dark spots
- Rings around lights
- Impaired color vision
- Seeing floaters (spots or strings)
* High blood pressure and pregnancy may aggravate diabetic retinopathy condition. The symptoms above do not necessarily mean confirmed diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy. However, if one or more symptoms occur, contact your eye doctor immediately for a complete eye exam.
Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy
Mild cases of diabetic retinopathy may not require immediate medical intervention, although regular eye exams are necessary to monitor any progression of the disease. Strict control of blood sugar levels and monitoring of blood pressure levels may prevent further complications. In serious cases, medical treatment is recommended to prevent vision loss. Recommended treatments include:
Focal laser treatment or photocoagulation can reduce macular edema, a condition where the retina can develop leaks. The treatment works by focusing laser light on the damaged areas to seal the leaking retinal vessels. This surgery can be performed in an outpatient clinic or an ophthalmologist’s office, and usually only needs one session.
Scatter laser treatment or panretinal photocoagulation is used to heal neovascularization or abnormal blood vessel growth, which causes retinal detachment from the back of the eye. The laser is delivered on the peripheral area of the retina. Tiny scars that develop from the laser help to reattach the retina. This surgery can be performed in an outpatient clinic or an ophthalmologist’s office, and takes two to three session. Patients might experience blurry vision after the procedure that lasts for roughly 24 hours. In some cases, loss of night vision or peripheral vision after the surgery may occur.
Intraocular Steroid Injection (ISI) is a relatively new treatment for macular edema. This helps lessen the quantity of fluid leaking from the retina, thus resulting to visual improvement. Diabetes is a chronic disease; therefore, this treatment may need to be performed repeatedly or paired with laser therapy in order to obtain maximum or lasting effect.
Cryotherapy, or cold therapy, can help decrease cellular metabolism, lessen inflammation, promote vasoconstriction and increase cellular survival. These benefits can help in healing diabetic retinopathy by decreasing the abnormal blood vessel growth, restricting blood flow and minimize the swelling of the retina.
Vitrectomy is another treatment for advanced proliferative diabetic retinopathy or the condition where new blood vessels are growing over the retina and clouding the vision. This procedure removes the blood from the vitreous humor and substitutes it with clear solution. Ophthalmologist usually waits for the blood to dissipate on its own; they will only proceed with vitrectomy after several months of “watchful waiting” without development. This microsurgical treatment is performed in an operating room.
The success of any diabetic retinopathy treatment depends on early detection and treatment, controlling blood sugar levels and keeping up with medication. Have your eyes regularly checked by your ophthalmologist for early detection of the disease. Diabetic patients should avoid smoking, maintain their blood sugar levels and watch their blood pressure. Although, in most cases, diabetic retinopathy poses no problem to physical activity, occasionally, especially in people who suffer from proliferative retinopathy, physical activity is restricted. Complete recovery of normal vision is not guaranteed.
- Wikimedia Commons – National Eye Institute – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3f/Fundus_photo_showing_scatter_laser_surgery_for_diabetic_retinopathy_EDA09.JPG/800px-Fundus_photo_showing_scatter_laser_surgery_for_diabetic_retinopathy_EDA09.JPG
- Wikimedia Commons – National Eye Institute – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/1a/Fundus_photo_showing_focal_laser_surgery_for_diabetic_retinopathy_EDA10.JPG/800px-Fundus_photo_showing_focal_laser_surgery_for_diabetic_retinopathy_EDA10.JPG
- Wikimedia Commons – National Eye Institute – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/9f/Fundus_Proliferative_retinopathy_EDA01.JPG/800px-Fundus_Proliferative_retinopathy_EDA01.JPG
- MayoClinic.com – https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/diabetic-retinopathy/DS00447
- Diabetes Sight – https://www.diabetes-sight.org/?cat=3
- MediResource Inc – https://bodyandhealth.canada.com/channel_condition_info_details.asp?channel_id=2022&relation_id=16665&disease_id=196&page_no=2
- WebMD – https://diabetes.webmd.com/tc/diabetic-retinopathy-treatment-overview
- National Eye Institute – https://www.nei.nih.gov/neitrials/static/study32.asp