Statistics from the National Eye Institute regarding Diabetic Retinopathy: “According to the National Eye Institute, it is estimated that nearly 5.4 million Americans, ages 18 and over currently have diabetic retinopathy. This eye disease causes over 8000 cases of new blindness annually, and is the primary cause of blindness for people ages 25 to 74” (Valero and Drouilhet, 2001).
Early detection can save your vision!
What is diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease and a leading cause of blindness in American adults. In the majority of diabetic retinopathy cases, blindness is completely preventable. Patients will need to work closely with the Washington Eye Physicians & Surgeons diabetic eye doctors to monitor and treat this disease. The use of medications and daily blood sugar monitoring can make a major impact on containing the worsening of diabetic retinopathy. The retina is the like the film in a camera; in which it is the light sensing film on the back of the eye that captures the images. With diabetes, sugar (glucose) builds up within blood vessels in the retina and tissues of the body causing it to attach to the proteins in the wall. This alters the vessel’s normal structure and functioning. The vessels eventually get blocked and leak fluid. When they cannot deliver an adequate amount of blood supply to the eye, the eye can generate abnormal new blood vessels. Early diabetic retinopathy usually has no symptoms. However, worsening diabetic retinopathy can lead to visual loss and blindness.
The stages of diabetic retinopathy are divided into two categories, nonproliferative retinopathy and proliferative retinopathy.
This is the first and earliest stage of diabetic retinopathy. NPDR occurs when the small blood vessels of the retina start to leak fluid or bleed. This activity will lead to the formation of deposits called exudates. Once these blood vessels start to leak swelling within the central part of the retina occurs. When the leakage of these blood vessels causes swelling, macular edema sets in and the blood vessels can become blocked. This stage of diabetic retinopathy is common when a person develops diabetes. Most diabetics have some grade of NPDR. It is imperative to maintain regular eye examinations with the retina specialists at Washington Eye Physicians & Surgeons to monitor and treat NPDR.
When new vessels start to grow as a result of the existing vessels becoming blocked, this marks the beginning of the next stage of diabetic retinopathy, proliferative diabetic retinopathy. This level of diabetic retinopathy is the most severe and dangerous for the diabetic patient. These new abnormal blood vessels can grow on the retina, optic nerve, iris or into the vitreous gel inside the eye, and tend to grow poorly and are very fragile. The damage that these blood vessels bring to retina can be catastrophic and include hemorrhages on the retina, scar tissues build up, and possible retina detachment.
Diabetic Retinopathy Symptoms
- If you are a diabetic patient it is suggested by our diabetic eye specialists that you have regular eye exams to look for symptoms. Diabetic retinopathy does not really have any initial warning signs.
- Retinal swelling may cause blurred vision and distortion.
- Objects may look smaller or larger than normal
- Floaters may appear due to the bleeding of the blood vessels.
*If proliferative diabetic retinopathy is left untreated blindness can occur. The best alternative to fighting PDR is early detection so that you and your eye doctor can begin to control this development.
How is diabetic retinopathy diagnosed?
Retinopathy, particularly at its earliest stages may not produce any visual symptoms. Early detection is the best way to prevent vision loss. Therefore, it is crucial for all patients with diabetes to undergo a complete eye exam by an ophthalmologist, with careful evaluation of the retina at least once a year and more frequently once diabetic retinopathy is detected.
Diabetic Retinopathy Treatment
Treatment depends primarily upon the type and severity of the retinopathy. The most important aspect of treatment, however, is prevention. By regularly monitoring blood sugar, and maintaining a healthy program of diet and exercise, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing retinopathy.
Laser is performed by directing a beam of light into the eye to treat the damaged parts of the retina. In cases of background diabetic retinopathy with macular edema, the laser is used to seal off leaking blood vessels and to stimulate the eye to reabsorb the fluid. When abnormal blood vessel growth is present, as in proliferative diabetic retinopathy, laser is used to decrease and prevent blood vessel growth. Laser surgery is often performed in the office and usually only requires topical or local anesthesia. Multiple laser treatments are often necessary.
Bleeding into the vitreous cavity can occur in severe cases of proliferative diabetic retinopathy. If the vitreous is filled with blood, surgery may be recommended to remove the blood from the center of the eye and the abnormal vessels causing the bleeding. Even though the blood may be severely impairing your vision, your doctor may advise waiting to see if the blood clears on its own before recommending surgery. Vitrectomy surgery is also performed to repair retinal detachments caused by excessive scar tissue that develops in proliferative retinopathy.
To learn more, call 301-657-5700 to schedule an appointment with a diabetic eye doctor at Washington Eye Physicians and Surgeons.