Diabetic eye diseases, including diabetic retinopathy, have the potential to cause severe vision loss and even blindness. The best way to lower the risk of vision loss is to be cognizant of the risks and diligent about seeking the expertise and attention of medical professionals.
Seeing an eye doctor regularly is a good way to detect problems in their early stages, when they can be treated most easily. Retina specialists are ophthalmologists that complete special training in the medical and surgical care of conditions like diabetic eye disease. These doctors look for signs of diabetic retinopathy, monitor the condition in its early stages and — if it progresses to a more serious problem such as proliferative diabetic retinopathy or macular edema — recommend the appropriate treatment intervention.
Laser treatment involves directing a beam of high-intensity light into the eye to seal leaking blood vessels and slow the leakage of blood and fluid in the vitreous. Lasers cannot restore lost vision, but they can stop the progression of diabetic eye disease. Laser treatment may be performed in an office setting with numbing eye drops to prevent patient discomfort.
There are two types of laser treatments used. Focal laser treatment is designed to stop or slow the leakage of blood and fluid from abnormal blood vessels. Because focal laser treatment can potentially damage surrounding healthy tissue as it works, it is not used to treat the macula (the center of the retina). Scatter laser treatment, or panretinal photocoagulation, involves making numerous tiny laser burns scattered around the retina, sparing the macula. The burns slow the growth of new blood vessels and the development of bleeding and scar tissue.
Vitrectomy surgery is a procedure in which the vitreous gel of the eye is removed and replaced with a clear salt solution. Blood and scar tissue that accompany the abnormal blood vessels are also removed. This prevents further hemorrhage. If the retina has torn or detached from the back wall of the eye, these problems can be repaired during the procedure, too.
Injection therapy may be appropriate in some cases of diabetic retinopathy to curb the growth of abnormal blood vessels. The medications, called anti-VEGF drugs, are injected into the vitreous gel and block vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a chemical that promotes blood vessel growth. Injections are typically administered monthly for the first six months of treatment.
Steroid medications can also be used on their own or in combination with laser surgery or other drugs to reduce swelling, leakage and the growth of unwanted blood vessels in the retina. A series of regular injections as determined by the doctor is recommended until the condition is under control.
Careful Diabetes Management Is Key
The best way to prevent the occurrence and progression of diabetic eye diseases is diabetes management. People with diabetes must be constantly attuned to their health. Many diabetics rely on a multi-specialty team — which can include a primary care physician, endocrinologist and dietician — to monitor blood sugar levels, help them make smart lifestyle choices and understand how the disease affects the entire body.
Proper diabetes self-management involves a variety of habits, including the following:
- Healthful eating – well-balanced, nutritious meals and portion control
- Regular exercise and physical activity
- Careful monitoring of blood sugar levels, blood pressure and other vital signs
- Taking medications as prescribed
- Scheduling regular eye, foot and dental examinations
- Coping with stress as it comes up
- Not smoking
- Not drinking excessively
Contact Us Today
Would you like to learn about what you can do to avoid diabetic eye disease or slow its progression? Or, have you been diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy and need information about your treatment options? Our retina specialists can help. Contact our practice today to request an appointment with our team.