Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that weakens the blood vessels that supply nourishment to the retina (the light-sensitive lining in the back of the eye where vision is focused). These weak vessels can leak, swell or develop thin branches, causing a loss of vision. Changes to your vision may not be noticeable at first. But in its advanced stages, the disease can cause blurred or cloudy vision, floaters and blind spots – and, eventually, blindness. This damage is irreversible. Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye complication and a leading cause of blindness in American adults. Macular edema, which is leaking fluid that causes blurred vision, often occurs with diabetic retinopathy.
Fortunately, diabetic retinopathy is preventable. People with diabetes are most susceptible to developing it, but your risk is reduced if you follow your prescribed diet and medications, exercise regularly, control your blood pressure, and avoid alcohol and cigarettes. Regular eye exams are an integral part of making sure your eyes are healthy. Diabetic retinopathy can be detected through a visual acuity test, a dilated eye exam or tonometry.
Although damage caused by diabetic retinopathy cannot be corrected, patients diagnosed with the condition can be treated to slow its progression and prevent further vision loss. Treatment modalities include laser and surgical procedures.
Diabetic Retinopathy Laser Surgery
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that weakens the blood vessels that supply nourishment to the retina (the light-sensitive lining in the back of the eye where vision is focused). When these weak vessels leak, swell or develop thin branches, vision loss occurs. Laser surgery is the treatment of choice.
Focal laser coagulation may be recommended for patients with clinically significant macular edema (CSME) – swelling of the central retina, called the macula. The laser coagulates, or dries up, the fluid that is causing the swelling. A similar procedure called scatter laser photocoagulation (also known as pan-retinal photocoagulation or PRP) destroys abnormal blood vessel growth in patients with proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR). If there is blood in the eye obscuring the laser, a vitrectomy may be performed to drain the blood in preparation for photocoagulation. This procedure works best before the blood vessels have started to bleed. It can cause a loss of some side vision, but will save the rest of your vision from being lost.
Other treatments for patients with clinically significant macular edema and diabetic retinopathy include intravitreal injections of Avastin and Lucentis. Both Avastin and Lucentis have been shown to improve visual acuity and reduce retinal thickening associated with clinically significant macular edema.