Diabetic Retinopathy Treatment: Fighting the Effects of Diabetes on Vision

Patients who suffer from type 1 or type 2 diabetes should be especially vigilant when it comes to their ocular health. Your Ophthalmologist at Broberg Eye Care will communicate the findings of your exam to your General Practitioner to help guide your blood sugar control. Contact us today to learn more.

Patients who suffer from type 1 and type 2 diabetes often have elevated blood glucose levels, which can damage ocular blood vessels, especially those around the retina, causing them to become weaker, circulate improperly, inflame, or grow abnormally. This is diabetic retinopathy, of which there are two types: nonproliferative and proliferative.

In nonproliferative retinopathy, which progresses from mild to moderate to severe if left untreated, the blood vessels degrade and begin to swell. This can make your vision blurry, cause you to see spots, or make seeing at night more difficult, but many patients experience little to no symptoms during this stage of the disease.

As the condition of the blood vessels worsens, you may develop proliferative retinopathy, in which your body attempts to remedy the situation by growing new blood vessels. However, these blood vessels do not develop properly, so they easily break and leak blood, obstructing your vision. Diabetic retinopathy can cause vision loss in both its nonproliferative and proliferative forms if leaking or swollen blood vessels damage the macula. This condition is referred to as macular edema.

Diabetes, a chronic metabolic disorder affecting over 29 million Americans, often increases patients’ blood sugar levels. This can cause poor circulation, inflammation, and irregular blood vessel development. The eyes are especially vulnerable to these changes, which is why diabetic patients are at higher risk for blindness than those who do not suffer from this disease. To combat their increased probability of ocular complications, patients with diabetes should be especially conscientious about attending routine Ophthalmological appointments and try to control their blood sugar and blood pressure levels as much as possible.

Unfortunately, many of the ocular complications that can result from diabetes have minimal or no symptoms until they become a major problem. Our doctors recommend that patients with diabetes come in for routine exams once a year at minimum so that we can detect any disorders before they become more difficult to treat. At these appointments, our Ophthalmologists will check your visual acuity, assess your peripheral vision, and perform a dilated eye exam to evaluate your retina for any irregularities. To get a detailed look at your ocular structure, we use optical coherence tomography, which creates a 3D map of your eye.

In addition, you should contact our office for an appointment immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Ocular discomfort or pain
  • Persistent redness
  • Flashers or floaters in your field of vision
  • Loss of peripheral eyesight
  • Diplopia (double vision)
  • Hazy or blurry vision
  • Rapidly changing optometric prescription
  • Headache or nausea from increased eye pressure

Patients with diabetes who are pregnant or currently smoke are at even higher risk for ocular disorders, so they should be especially aware of any changes in their vision.

It is extremely important for all diabetic patients to take special care in monitoring eye health by scheduling annual eye exams. However, among those patients suffering from diabetes, there are characteristics that put a patient at higher risk for diabetic retinopathy. These risk factors include:

  • Poor blood sugar control
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking

The chances of developing diabetic retinopathy also increases in patients who have suffered from diabetes for an extensive amount of time.

In its early stages, diabetic retinopathy is not likely to produce any noticeable symptoms. However, as the condition progresses, patients may experience any of the following:

  • Blurred vision
  • Erratic vision
  • Dark spots or floaters
  • Decreased color perception
  • Vision loss

There are two types of diabetic retinopathy. Depending on how far the condition has progressed, a patient may suffer from early diabetic retinopathy or advanced diabetic retinopathy.

  • In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, also known as non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, no new blood vessels are proliferating, or growing. However, the blood vessels that are present may begin to weaken, leak fluid, or close.
  • Advanced diabetic retinopathy is known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy because at this stage of progression new blood vessels begin to grow in the eye. These blood vessels are abnormal and may leak fluid, create a buildup of pressure in the eye, and cause the growth of scar tissue.

Mild cases of diabetic retinopathy can be followed conservatively with serial examinations. More advanced cases may call for injectable VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) inhibitors, medications that can slow the development of abnormal blood vessels.  These can be used in combination with laser procedures that seal leaking blood vessels.

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