Many diabetics are not aware that high blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels in the retina. That damage is referred to as Diabetic Retinopathy. Although half of all American diabetics are affected by Diabetic Retinopathy, 90% of those people can be saved from blindness.
Early detection allows doctors to monitor the condition of the retina while patients begin more intense management of their blood sugar levels. Our doctors monitor diabetic patients and provide treatment when necessary.
How does diabetic retinopathy damage the retina?
Diabetic retinopathy occurs when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels in the retina. Most people do not notice any changes in their vision. Another condition, Macular Edema, occurs when the damaged blood vessels leak fluid and lipids onto the macula, the part of the retina that lets us see detail. The fluid makes the macula swell, blurring vision.
As the disease progresses, it enters its advanced, or proliferative, stage. At that point, fragile new blood vessels grow along the retina and in the clear gel that fills the eye. Without timely treatment, these new blood vessels can bleed, cloud vision and destroy the retina.
What are the symptoms?
Diabetic Retinopathy often has no early warning signs. At some point, your vision will blur from Macular Edema, making it hard to do things like read and drive. Your vision may fluctuate from better to worse at times.
How is it detected?
Diabetic Retinopathy is detected by your doctor during an extensive eye exam that includes a visual acuity test, pupil dilation, and tonometry. If your doctor suspects that you have Macular Edema, he/she will perform an OCT (optical coherence tomography scan) or fluorescein angiography to locate the leaking blood vessels that need treatment.
How is it treated?
There are two treatments for Diabetic Retinopathy depending on the progression of the disease. They are both effective in reducing vision loss from this disease. Laser surgery may be performed to treat the leaking blood vessels. Your pupil is dilated and numbing drops are applied to the eye. If there is so much vitreous hemorrhage (bleeding/leaking of vessels) that laser surgery is not possible, or if the blood does not disappear on its own after a period of observation, it can be removed with an operation called a Vitrectomy. The procedure is performed under anesthesia at Victoria Surgery Center. The blood-filled vitreous gel is removed and replaced with a salt solution that is compatible with the eye.
Diabetic Macular Edema
Diabetic Macular Edema (DME) is a complication of Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) that occurs when high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels in the retina (the back of the eye). DME is the swelling of the macula (the center of the retina) caused by fluid leaking from blood vessels in the retina. The macula is the part of the eye that allows us to see fine details in our central vision.
Symptoms of Diabetic Macular Edema
In the early stages of DR or DME, you may not notice any symptoms. As the conditions worsen, you may start to experience:
- Blurry central vision
- Patchy blind spots
- Dull colors
- Wavy central vision
Treatment Options for Diabetic Macular Edema
At Victoria Eye Center, we offer a prescription medication injection treatment option for DME to help patients regain their vision:
- EYLEA® is injected into the eye to help control leakage of blood vessels into the layers of the retina. In clinical trials, patients who received EYLEA injections were able to read 10-15 additional letters on the eye chart 1-2 years after treatment.
Without these types of injection treatments, it is highly unlikely that any visual improvement in DME patients would be achieved.
For patients with diabetes or diabetic eye diseases, we encourage you to schedule regular comprehensive eye exams to stay updated on your eye health. For more information about these treatment options, contact us today.