Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of blindness in adults in America. If you have diabetes, you are at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy, although not all diabetics will develop the eye disease. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can threaten your sight. However, with early detection and treatment of the disease, significant vision loss can be avoided, a reason why it is so important for diabetics to schedule a dilated eye examination every year.
Treatment of diabetic retinopathy varies depending on the extent of the disease. During the early stages of the disease, symptoms may be mild or non-existent, requiring little treatment. To prevent progression of diabetic retinopathy, people with diabetes should control their levels of blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol. Once the disease progresses, however, the following three methods may be used to treat diabetic retinopathy:
- Scatter Laser Treatment: Advanced stage diabetic retinopathy is treated by performing scatter laser treatment, also known as pan-retinal photocoagulation. During scatter laser treatment, an ophthalmologist uses a laser to "scatter" many small burns across the retina. This causes leaking and abnormal blood vessels to shrink. Although the procedure works very well, it is important to understand that scatter laser treatment does not cure diabetic retinopathy, but rather, prevents further vision loss. Complications of scatter laser treatment may include decreased side or peripheral vision, reduced color vision and reduced night vision.
- Vitrectomy: Sometimes leaking blood vessels will cause a lot of bleeding (hemorrhage) in the vitreal cavity of the eye. If the bleeding is significant, a vitrectomy may be performed. A vitrectomy is performed under either local or general anesthesia. An ophthalmologist makes a tiny incision in your eye and carefully removes the vitreous gel that is clouded with blood. After the vitreous gel is removed from the eye, a clear salt solution is injected to replace the contents.
- Focal Laser Treatment: Leakage of fluid from blood vessels can sometimes lead to macular edema, or swelling of the retina. Focal laser treatment is performed to treat macular edema. Several hundred small burns are placed around the macula in order to reduce the amount of fluid build-up in the macula. This procedure has been shown to reduce further vision loss by 50%. Focal laser treatment can be repeated if necessary.
American Optometric Association. Diabetic Retinopathy. AOA, 2006-09.