Diabetes (diabetes mellitus) is a common disease in which blood-sugar levels are chronically too high. The disease has many related complications, and several eye diseases among them. The most common eye complication of diabetes is diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of adult blindness.
Diabetic retinopathy occurs when high blood-sugar levels affect the functionality of blood vessels in the retina (light-sensing cells in the eye). In early phases of the disease, capillaries will leak blood or fluid. This can cause swelling in the retina (which may result in blurring of central vision), and it can leak into the vitreous humor (the fluid surrounding the retina) causing floaters or obscuring vision.
During the beginning stage serious vision damage is less likely, however, it can lead to a more advanced stage of the disease, called proliferative diabetic retinopathy. In this form, blood vessels in the retina actually close off. New blood vessels grow to make up for the lack of blood flow to the retina. The new blood vessels unfortunately are accompanied by scarring and more leakage. This can lead to serious vision loss and blindness.
Early symptoms of diabetic retinopathy may include:
The condition can typically be diagnosed by an ophthalmologist during an eye exam, long before noticeable vision symptoms occur and when more treatment options are still available. Thus it is very important for those suffering from diabetes to have regular eye exams, to monitor for diabetic retinopathy and other complications.
Treatments for diabetic retinopathy vary based upon the nature and progression of the condition. The best way to preserve good vision is to vigilantly control blood-sugar levels, lessening the chance of retinopathy, and impeding its rate of advancement.
Laser Treatment (Photocoagulation): Laser therapy can be used to treat certain forms of diabetic retinopathy. The laser is used to create small burns on the retina, which helps to seal leaking blood vessels and prevent further damage. This treatment, known as photocoagulation, aims to preserve vision and reduce the risk of severe complications.
In cases of advanced diabetic retinopathy or diabetic macular edema, injections of medication (Anti-VEGF Therapy) into the eye may be recommended. These medications, called anti-VEGF drugs, help to reduce swelling, leakage, and abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina. Regular injections may be required to maintain the positive effects of the treatment.
If the vitreous humor has become clouded by blood leakage, there is a chance it may be naturally purged by the eye. If clouding persists, however, a vitrectomy, a surgical removal of the vitreous humor, may be necessary. The ophthalmologist replaces it with a saline solution, and the eye naturally replenishes the vitreous fluid over time. This procedure can restore vision that has been obscured in the vitreous, however, any vision loss due to retinal damage or detachment is not restored.
If you have diabetes or are experiencing any symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, we encourage you to contact us today to schedule a consultation.