What is diabetic retinopathy?
Affecting nearly 1 in 3 diabetes patients over 40 years old, this condition results from the blood vessels in the retina being damaged due to high blood sugar.
The retina is the light-sensitive layer of glial cells and photoreceptors at the back of each eye. As damage progresses, your vision becomes increasingly blurred or distorted. Without treatment, it can lead to partial or complete blindness.
What are the symptoms?
Diabetic retinopathy may not present symptoms early on. Any warning signs might also be mild, vague, or unnoticeable. For example, if you have always lived with imperfect vision, you may not realize that diabetic retinopathy is contributing to your advancing vision problems. As such, your eyesight depends on routine diabetic eye exams with a retinal specialist in Sun City, Arizona.
In particular, you should consult your eye doctor if you have or suspect having diabetes, or if you experience one or more of these symptoms:
- Blurry vision
- Poor night vision
- Seeing anything unusual in your field of vision, including floaters, spots, dots, strings, or vacant areas
- Changes in the way you see colors
- Fluctuating vision problems
Diabetic retinopathy typically affects both eyes simultaneously and in equal measure. If you are experiencing changes in only one eye, it might indicate a different eye problem. See your Sun City ophthalmologist to receive an accurate diagnosis and determine a suitable treatment plan.
How do doctors diagnose diabetic retinopathy?
Ophthalmologists, or specialists in the study and treatment of eye diseases, perform dilated eye exams to diagnose diabetic retinopathy. This safe and non-invasive procedure involves placing drops (tropicamide) in the eyes to widen the pupils. It allows your ophthalmologist to assess the inside of your eyes and identify signs of retinopathy-induced damage.
Furthermore, while your pupils are in a dilated state, your doctor may conduct one or more of the following diagnostic tests:
- Optical coherence tomography (OCT): This non-invasive diagnostic procedure uses light waves to capture cross-section images of your eyes. The results will reveal the thickness of your retina and any leakage areas from damaged blood vessels.
- Fluorescein angiography: While your eyes remain dilated, your doctor will inject a yellow dye (fluorescein) into a vein in your arm or hand. As the dye travels and passes through the eye’s blood vessels, a special camera will take a series of images to record the blood flow in your retina. Fluorescein helps distinguish which blood vessels are leaking or have blockages.
What is the treatment for diabetic retinopathy?
The goal of diabetic retinopathy treatment is to delay or stop the condition’s progression. Your retinopathy’s severity and overall health will determine which method is best.
Your local ophthalmologist may recommend the following in addition to managing diabetes and taking control of your blood glucose:
1. Active Surveillance
If your retinopathy is asymptomatic or in its early stages, treatment may be unnecessary for the time being. In such cases, annual diabetic eye exams in Phoenix, AZ, are crucial. These yearly eye check-ups are the only way to monitor changes and prevent the vision-impairing consequences of diabetic retinopathy.
2. Injecting Medications Into the Eyes
Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) inhibitors help slow or halt the growth of new blood vessels. These injectable medications also reduce fluid buildup in advanced diabetic retinopathy.
Your treatment may begin with three anti-VEGF injections once a month for three months. Your retinal specialist will then check whether the medication is working. It is common for patients to need additional injections following the initial three.
3. Scatter Laser Treatment
Also known as pan-retinal photocoagulation, this laser treatment shrinks abnormal blood vessels and burns them. This procedure decreases the chances of blood vessels around the retina from growing or bulging.
4. Focal Laser Treatment
Your ophthalmologist may recommend this procedure, also called photocoagulation, if you have advanced diabetic retinopathy. Focal laser treatments can slow or inhibit blood leakage from the blood vessels by burning them. This powerful technique can stop symptoms and potentially reverse them.
This surgical procedure eases the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy when laser treatments do not work. While sedated, your surgeon will create a small incision in your eye. They will remove (1) blood leakage and blockages, as well as (2) scar tissue pulling on your retina and affecting your vision.
Additional guide: Diabetic Retinopathy Surgery Recovery Tips
6. Low Vision Devices
In many cases, laser treatments and vitrectomy surgery can reverse retinopathy-related vision problems. If you have permanent vision changes, prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses may help improve your vision.
What is the outlook for diabetic retinopathy?
Although the treatments for diabetic retinopathy have favorable success rates, they cannot cure diabetes – the chronic condition responsible for diabetic retinopathy. You will likely experience complications and vision problems throughout your lifetime.
On the bright side, you can slow diabetic retinopathy and relieve symptoms with treatments. As long as you undergo regular eye exams, your ophthalmologist can monitor signs of progression and provide the treatments you need.
How do I prepare for my appointment?
Come to your diabetic eye exam in Sun City, AZ, with a full 8 hours of sleep. Also, avoid straining your eyes before coming in, as tired eyes may lead to inaccurate results.
You should also prepare to discuss everything related to your ocular health. You can compile the following information and bring it with you:
- What are your symptoms?
- When did your symptoms begin?
- If you have fluctuating vision problems, when and how often do they occur?
- How long have you had diabetes and what is your current blood glucose level?
- Did you have vision problems before developing diabetes?
- Do you have any other health issues in addition to diabetes?
- Is there anything else your doctor should know?
Neglecting diabetic retinopathy can cause irreversible vision loss and eventual blindness. Do not let this disease take away your sense of sight. Call Arizona Retinal Specialists at 623-474-3937 (EYES) to schedule your dilated eye exam.