According to the National Institute of Health, diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness in the United States. Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that occurs when the tiny blood vessels inside the retina (the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye) are damaged. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can result in permanent vision loss.
Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy
People who suffer from diabetes have high levels of blood sugar. Over time, this condition can affect the circulatory system of the retina and cause damage to the blood vessels that supply the retina. In the earliest stage of the disease, known as background diabetic retinopathy, the weakened arteries begin to leak, forming small, dot-like hemorrhages. These leaking vessels usually lead to swelling of the retina (macular edema) and decreased vision.
The next stage is known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy. During this stage, decreased blood flow causes the retina to become deprived of oxygen. New blood vessels are formed in an attempt to maintain sufficient oxygen levels in the retina, but these new blood vessels are weak and often break. When these newer, weaker blood vessels break, fluid leaks into the retina’s center, causing vision loss that can range from slight to severe. Other serious conditions, such as glaucoma and retinal detachment, can also be a result of diabetic retinopathy.
In most cases, no treatment is needed during the first three stages of diabetic retinopathy (unless you have macular edema). Proliferative retinopathy and macular edema are most commonly treated with laser surgery. During the procedure, the laser shrinks abnormal blood vessels and stops their growth. This laser treatment, which can be done in less than 30 minutes, can improve your vision and prevent further vision loss.
Common symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include blurred vision, floaters and flashes, and sudden loss of vision. In some cases, no symptoms are noticed at all, even when considerable damage has already been done. That is why everyone with diabetes, type 1 and type 2, should have a comprehensive eye exam at least once a year.
Early detection and treatment of diabetic retinopathy are essential to protecting your eyesight. Don’t wait for symptoms, contact us today to schedule a comprehensive eye care appointment.
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Causes of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that has a significant impact on the health of the entire body. Chronically high levels of blood sugar can damage the blood vessels of the retina, resulting in a condition known as diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is one of the leading causes of blindness in the U.S. Our doctors offer comprehensive treatment for diabetic retinopathy, and can help you understand diabetic retinopathy causes.
How Diabetic Retinopathy Develops
As blood sugar levels rise, circulation throughout the body is compromised. Left untreated or insufficiently managed, elevated blood sugar can damage the blood vessels of the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Diabetic retinopathy can result in a progressive loss of vision. In addition to increasingly blurred vision, symptoms can include sudden vision loss, and flashes and floaters. In some cases, the disease produces no noticeable symptoms, although substantial damage may have already occurred.
Types of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy can be either proliferative (PDR) or non-proliferative (NPDR). In the earliest stage of the condition, called background diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels damaged by poor circulation can begin to leak, forming very small hemorrhages. NPDR results when this leakage causes retinal tissue to swell. If insufficient delivery of oxygen to the retina persists, the body may grow new blood vessels (PDR) to try and compensate. These weak vessels are prone to substantial hemorrhaging. As the vessels burst and fluid leaks into the center of the retina, more severe vision loss and even blindness can occur.
The most important step diabetics can take to guard against permanent vision loss is attending annual examinations with an eye doctor. Early detection and prompt, appropriate care are among the most effective ways to ensure the success of your treatment.
Unless you also suffer from macular edema (the collection of protein and fluid under the macula, the center of the retina), treatment may not be needed during the earliest stages of diabetic retinopathy, but your doctor will monitor your condition. Once the retinopathy becomes proliferative, or macular edema develops, your doctor will discuss treatment options with you.
Laser therapy is often used to treat PDR. The simple procedure can be completed in less than a half hour. During surgery, a laser is used to shrink abnormal vessels, deterring their growth before they can cause complications for your vision. In some cases, steroid injections may be recommended, either alone or in conjunction with laser treatment. Like laser treatment, medicated injections help the body shrink abnormal blood vessels and prevent new ones from forming.
Take an Active Role in Preserving Your Vision
Left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can take a significant toll on your quality of life. The growth of new vessels can form scar tissue, damaging the retina and causing it to detach from the inner wall of the eye. Known as retinal detachment, this serious condition can lead to blindness. Regular examinations with an experienced doctor can not only preserve your vision, but also guard against the development of other serious diabetic eye conditions.
Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetes affects circulation throughout the body, and this serious metabolic disorder can damage the tiny blood vessels that supply the retina with blood, oxygen, and nutrients. The condition, known as diabetic retinopathy, is a leading cause of blindness in the U.S. Although diabetic retinopathy cannot be cured, early intervention can guard against loss of vision. In addition to undergoing annual examinations with an experienced eye doctor, diabetics should become familiar with diabetic retinopathy symptoms so they will know when to seek immediate attention.
Understanding the Cause of Your Symptoms
The light-sensitive retinal tissue at the back of the eye processes light to help the brain perceive visual images. When circulation to the retina is compromised, it can damage small blood vessels, causing them to leak and hemorrhage. This condition is called non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy.
As circulation continues to worsen, new blood vessels will form in an attempt to deliver more oxygen to the retina. This is called proliferative diabetic retinopathy. These abnormal vessels are weak, and are prone to hemorrhaging. Broken blood vessels can leak fluid into the retina’s center, distorting and blurring vision. Diabetic retinopathy can cause slight to complete loss of vision, and also lead to the development of other serious health issues, like glaucoma and retinal detachment.
In some cases, diabetic retinopathy sufferers will experience no noticeable symptoms before significant damage occurs. It is important for diabetics to understand that an absence of symptoms does not mean their vision is not at risk.
Common symptoms usually affect both eyes, and include a sudden loss of vision, blurred vision that gradually becomes worse, blind spots, or vision that will periodically change from blurry to clear. Night vision may suffer, and colors may appear washed out or distorted. An increase in the number of flashes and floaters can also indicate diabetic retinopathy.
Stop Progressive Vision Loss
In addition to seeking medical attention if you experience changes to your vision, it is important for diabetic patients to undergo annual exams at our office. During a comprehensive examination, our doctors can check for indications that you have developed diabetic retinopathy, and monitor its progress if you have already received a diagnosis.
The early stages of diabetic retinopathy may not require treatment. But once the retinopathy becomes proliferative, your doctor may recommend laser treatment. Also known as photocoagulation, laser surgery can shrink abnormal vessels and stop leakage.
Take Action to Protect Your Health
Left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can lead to blindness. Regardless of whether you are experiencing symptoms, if you suffer from diabetes, your ocular health may already be affected. Choosing an experienced and credentialed ophthalmologist can help you take charge of your ocular health and protect your vision in the future.
Diagnosing Diabetic Retinopathy
Insufficiently managed diabetes can affect your quality of life in many ways. Diabetic retinopathy, a condition involving damaged blood vessels in the retina (the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye), can cause slight to severe vision loss. In fact, it is one of the leading causes of blindness among American adults. Early diagnosis and treatment are the most effective ways to guard against the effects of diabetic retinopathy. Our doctors offer diabetic retinopathy diagnosis using sophisticated imaging technology to detect any suspect changes in the blood vessels of the retina, and to recommend an appropriate treatment for you.
A Closer Look at Diabetic Retinopathy
High levels of blood sugar can damage blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the retina. The body reacts by creating new blood vessels, a condition known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR). These weak vessels are prone to hemorrhaging. Leaking vessels can cause fluid to accumulate at the center of the retina, blurring vision. They can also lead to the formation of scar tissue, which can result in retinal detachment.
Early Detection Is the Key
Diabetic retinopathy can cause sudden or progressive vision loss, as well as an increase in flashes and floaters. However, in many cases, the condition will not cause any noticeable symptoms, even after the retina has sustained substantial damage. For this reason, it is especially important that our diabetic patients undergo annual exams at our office. If you experience any changes in your vision, it is important to schedule an appointment with us as soon as possible. Many retinal conditions require immediate attention, and should be treated as a medical emergency to guard against permanent and irreversible vision loss.
State-of-the-art Diagnostic Testing
During a comprehensive eye examination, our doctors will use advanced diagnostic methods to check for signs of diabetic retinopathy. After dilating the eyes to gain a better view of the retina, testing technology such as fundus photography, optical coherence tomography (OCT), or fluorescein angiography may be recommended. Fundus photography can be used to compare images of the retina over time, and check for noticeable changes in the tissue. OCT provides cross-section images of the retina and its circulation. Fluorescein angiography is a process of injecting a special dye into the blood stream, which allows your doctor to observe blood flow in the retina using a special camera.
These tests can not only diagnose the condition, but also help determine when diabetic retinopathy treatment is needed. The early stages of the condition do not typically require intervention. To treat advanced PDR, your doctor may recommend laser treatment (photocoagulation) to shrink abnormal blood vessels and deter their future growth, preserving your vision.
Take Control of Your Ocular Health
Diabetic retinopathy cannot be cured, but its effects can be slowed to preserve your vision. Undergoing regular examinations and diagnostic testing is one of the simplest ways to protect your ocular health. By making annual vision screenings a regular part of your diabetic management, we can help you preserve your vision.
Treating Diabetic Retinopathy
The high blood sugar levels caused by diabetes can compromise circulation throughout the body. Poor circulation can have a serious effect on the health of your eyes and your vision. Diabetic retinopathy is a progressive condition that is a leading cause of blindness in the U.S. Although it cannot be cured, treatment can slow its progress and guard against future vision loss. Our doctors use advanced diabetic retinopathy treatments such as laser surgery to help preserve our patients’ independence and quality of life.
When to Seek Treatment
It is uncommon to experience symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, but in later stages, blurred vision, poor night vision, washed-out colors, or an increase in floaters can occur. Annual exams can help your doctor monitor the health of your retinas and determine when treatment is necessary. Early detection and intervention are the best ways to ensure the success of your treatment.
The early stages of diabetic retinopathy may not require treatment, and during this time, careful management of your diabetes is the best way to prevent vision loss. If your retinopathy worsens and becomes proliferative (meaning new, weak blood vessels grow in an attempt to improve circulation), your doctor will likely recommend laser treatment. Lasers can seal leaking blood vessels that contribute to vision loss, and deter their regrowth.
The Photocoagulation Procedure
Laser surgery is an outpatient procedure that can be performed in as little as 30 minutes. Before the procedure, an anesthetic will be used to numb the eye, and your pupil will be dilated. A precise laser will be used to treat the entire retina (laser scatter treatment), or it can be directly applied to the affected blood vessels (focal photocoagulation). You may feel a slight stinging sensation or see brief flashes of light, but treatment is not painful.
After treatment, your vision may be slightly blurry, and you will need a friend or family member to drive you home. You will also need to wear sunglasses since your dilated eyes will be sensitive to light. After treatment, your vision may be slightly blurry, and you will need a friend or family member to drive you home. You will also need to wear sunglasses since your dilated eyes will be sensitive to light. Although you may experience some slight discomfort for a day or two after your appointment, it should dissipate quickly. You will need to attend follow-up appointments to ensure your healing is progressing on time and free of complications. Maintaining your blood sugar levels in the future can ensure you reap the full benefits of your laser surgery.
Recovering From Diabetic Retinopathy Treatment
Chronically elevated levels of blood sugar can have many detrimental effects. Diabetic retinopathy, a serious complication related to diabetes, damages the blood vessels of the retina. It is a leading cause of blindness in the U.S. When it is detected early, the condition is highly treatable, and can preserve your eyesight and guard against further vision loss.
Minimally Invasive Treatment Can Minimize Your Downtime
Today, advanced treatment options like laser surgery (photocoagulation) not only make care more effective, but also minimize diabetic retinopathy recovery time. Although the easiest way to guard against this type of vision loss is to undergo regularly scheduled examinations with an eye doctor, when your condition requires more aggressive intervention, we are here to help.
Understanding Laser Treatment
Diabetes affects circulation throughout the body. Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR), an advanced stage of the disease, develops when retinal tissue receives inadequate oxygen and new blood vessels grow to compensate. These new, weak vessels are prone to hemorrhaging. Once a vessel breaks and leaks fluid into the center of the retina, the resulting vision loss can be slight to severe.
Laser treatment targets and shrinks these unhealthy blood vessels before leakage can occur. The outpatient procedure can be completed in less than 30 minutes and is used to treat the entire retina. Prior to your procedure, you will receive a topical anesthetic to numb the eye and minimize any discomfort. Although laser treatment cannot cure diabetic retinopathy, it can prevent it from causing or mitigating vision loss.
Recovery & Aftercare
After your procedure, you may experience some discomfort, which can be managed with numbing eye drops. Since your eyes will be dilated for a short time after your procedure, you will need to wear sunglasses to guard against a sensitivity to light. Your vision may also be slightly blurry, and you will need to have a friend or family member drive you home after your appointment.
You will be able to resume normal activities after your procedure, although slight discomfort and blurred vision may persist for one to two days following your treatment. A small number of patients report laser spots in the center of their vision following the procedure, but these will typically fade over time. We will schedule follow-up appointments to monitor your recovery.
Preserving Your Vision
Depending on the severity of your condition, particularly if macular edema (the accumulation of fluid and protein under the center of the retina) is present, you may require additional treatment sessions. Some patients suffering from advanced PDR may require up to three or four laser treatment sessions.
Regular comprehensive examinations are important for everyone’s ocular health, but they are especially important for our diabetic patients. A number of eye conditions can result from untreated diabetic retinopathy, including glaucoma and retinal detachment. Proactively managing your condition and undergoing periodic check-ups and screenings can ensure the success of your diabetic retinopathy treatment.