Eye disease caused by diabetes is currently the number one cause of blindness and vision loss. Because of this, doctors recommend that people over 30 with diabetes get an annual dilated eye exam. Diabetic patients under 30 should get this exam five years after they have been diagnosed.
Diabetic retinopathy is caused by damage to the retina. Patients with diabetes may experience elevated blood sugar levels for extended periods of time. High levels of blood sugar damage the retina’s walls, leaving them susceptible to leaking. When fluid accumulates in the retina or macula, it causes vision loss.
Neovascularization is when the retina becomes oxygen-depleted due to repeated prolonged high blood sugar levels, causing abnormal growth of new blood vessels. These blood vessels are weak and prone to leaking, and as these blood vessels leak, blood is introduced into the eye. Excessive bleeding in the eye can lead to blindness.
While a healthy diet and exercise can be beneficial to your optical health, diabetic retinopathy is a condition that is caused by damage to the retinal wall. While this damage can sometimes be corrected, simple diet and exercise changes won’t reverse the effects.
Detecting diabetic retinopathy in its early stages is essential to minimizing its impact. This is why it's important for diabetes patients to monitor their blood sugar and prevent prolonged periods of elevated levels. Treatment options include vitrectomy, scatter photocoagulation and focal photocoagulation.
During both scatter and focal photocoagulation, lasers are used to help alleviate diabetic retinopathy. The lasers make small burns on the retina where new blood vessels are growing and seal them to both prevent more leakage and to stop them from growing larger.
During scatter photocoagulation, small burns are made in a specific pattern during two additional appointments. Scatter photocoagulation should be used on patients who do not have advanced diabetic retinopathy.
Focal photocoagulation specifically targets the leaking blood vessels that are in the macula. Unfortunately, this procedure is not aimed to correct the blurry vision associated with diabetic retinopathy, but it does stop it from progressing further. If the retina has detached, neither form of photocoagulation can be used.
Vitrectomy is a surgery that helps to remove scar tissue and/or the clouded fluid that has been leaked into the eye. This operation is most successful when performed before the disease has progressed too far. When the procedure also aims to reattach the retina, the success rate is around 50%. When the operation focuses solely on removing the fluid, success rates are very high.
Retinopathy affects every patient, and even the same pair of eyes, differently. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, so it is important to discuss with your doctor which treatment plans are right for you.
It’s important to learn about how to manage diabetes and to use the resources available to you to help keep the progression of diabetic retinopathy at bay. Make sure to test your blood glucose daily, schedule your regular doctor appointments and annual exams, and learn to listen to your body. Often we can begin to detect issues when we don’t feel right. Managing your diabetes with a complete health plan can lead to an increase in the quality of life and help to stop further vision loss.