Diabetes is a disease that affects blood vessels throughout the body, particularly vessels in the kidneys and eyes. When the blood vessels in the eyes are affected, this is called diabetic retinopathy.
The retina is located in the back of the eye and contains major blood vessels on the front portion of it. When these blood vessels are damaged due to diabetes, they may leak fluid or blood and grow scar tissue. This leakage affects the ability of the retina to detect and transmit images to the brain.
During the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, vision is typically not affected. However, when retinopathy progresses, new blood vessels grow in the retina. These new vessels are the body’s attempt to overcome and replace the vessels that have been damaged, but they are not normal. The new vessels may bleed and cause vision to become hazy, occasionally resulting in complete vision loss. The growth of these abnormal blood vessels can lead to glaucoma or cause your eyes to form cataracts. The new vessels may also damage the retina by forming scar tissue and pulling the retina away from its proper location. This is called retinal detachment and can lead to blindness if left untreated.
Diabetic Macular Edema is an advanced stage in which blood vessels leak fluid into the macular tissue of the retina, and other vessels completely stop carrying blood. When this happens, the retina becomes swampy and your vision becomes blurry. Most doctors use an argon laser to seal the blood vessels and dry up the retina, which may improve or stabilize vision.
If you have diabetes, you can reduce your chances of developing diabetic retinopathy by keeping your blood sugar under control, monitoring your blood pressure, maintaining a healthy diet, and exercising. Regular eye examinations are extremely important in order to detect diseases such as diabetic retinopathy in early stages.
What to Expect
Everyone who has diabetes is at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy, but not everyone develops it. Generally, diabetics don’t develop diabetic retinopathy until they’ve had diabetes for at least 10 years. There are usually no symptoms in the early stages, but those who develop it may notice difficulty reading, doing close work, or double vision. They may also notice an increase of “floaters”, specks that seem to levitate about in your field of vision.
In order to test for diabetic retinopathy, your eye doctor may perform a test called fluorescein angiography. During the test, an orange-red dye called Fluorescein will be injected into a vein in your arm. The dye will travel through your body to the blood vessels in your retina. Your doctor will use a special camera with a green filter to flash a blue light into your eye and take multiple photographs. The pictures will be analyzed to identify any damage to the lining of the retina or atypical new blood vessels.
In advanced stages, pan-retinal photocoagulation or focal laser photocoagulation is performed. When this is performed, a laser is used to treat leaking vessels and to destroy all of the dead areas of the retina where blood vessels have been closed.
Who will my doctor be?
Rather than being a practice of general ophthalmologists, each doctor at the Taustine Eye Center has an area of specialization. These specializations ensure that our patients receive the most up-to-date treatments from highly experienced and knowledgeable doctors.
- Diabetic Retinopathy
- Age-Related Macular Degeneration