Diabetic Retinopathy

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Diabetes' Effect on Your Eyes

As every diabetic knows, when blood sugar levels are too high for extended periods of time, bad things can happen. In the eyes, this includes potential damage to the tiny capillaries that supply blood to the retina. Over time, these blood vessels begin to leak fluids and fats, causing edema (swelling). Eventually, they can close off, called ischemia.

 

Both problems are signs of nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy. If left untreated, the proliferative form of diabetic retinopathy may develop, where the blocked blood vessels from ischemia can cause new, abnormal blood vessels to grow on the retina. This can damage the retina by causing it to wrinkle or detach altogether.

Signs and Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

As with many retinal diseases, people with diabetic retinopathy often don’t know they have it, because rarely are there any symptoms in the early stages. However, unlike some retinal conditions, it usually develops in both eyes. Symptoms become noticeable as the disease progresses, and may include:

 

  • Floaters (spots, dots or cobweb-like strings in your vision)
  • Blurred vision, or vision that changes from blurry to clear
  • Blank or dark areas in your field of view
  • Colors that are washed out or dulled
  • Poor night vision, or general vision loss
  • Diabetes: Overview

For emergency or time sensitive appointments, call 913-261-2020
or 1-800-742-0020 (toll free).

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The scheduling department is open Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. We will contact you by 5 p.m. the next business day to confirm appointment details.

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  • Thorough dilated exam to address eye medical conditions.
  • Examples: cataract, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration.
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The scheduling department is open Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. We will contact you by 5 p.m. the next business day to confirm appointment details.

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Sabates Eye Centers Retina Specialty Group

Diagnosis of Diabetic Retinopathy

We recommend a complete, dilated eye exam at least once a year for every diabetic. That way our specialists in the Retina Center can detect diabetes-related eye problems before they become vision problems. In between exams, you should report any changes in your vision, such as increased fuzziness, new floating spots, restricted side vision, or pain.

 

When significant retinopathy is detected, a special test called fluorescein angiography is sometimes performed. After color pictures are taken, a yellow dye is injected into the arm vein and photographed as it passes through the retinal vessels. This provides a very detailed map of the retina, showing any weakened or abnormal blood vessels. Other testing includes optical coherence tomography (OCT), a noninvasive laser scan that makes a 3-D map of the retina, revealing areas of retinal swelling (edema).

Treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy

Laser surgery is the most common treatment, used to cauterize leaky blood vessels or stimulate abnormal new vessels to shrink and stop bleeding. It’s performed on an outpatient basis, using anesthetic eye drops or an injection, usually with little or no discomfort. If the retina is swelling, “focal” or “grid” laser therapy is prescribed to prevent further vision loss and sometimes results in some visual improvement. Additional laser procedures may be required as the disease progresses, in order to reduce the risk of vision loss from bleeding or retinal detachment.

Diabetic Retinopathy Surgery Recovery and Expectations

Laser surgery is designed to stabilize or improve vision. It cuts in half the risk of severe vision loss. Even if vision is not improved, laser therapy may help to limit visual loss that would have occurred without treatment. Some patients experience side effects such as mild loss of side vision, blurry vision or spots, and difficulty seeing in dim light. However, if noticed at all, side effects are usually mild and temporary. Although laser treatment is very successful at stabilizing diabetic retinopathy, it is not a cure. Sometimes, damage may progress despite laser treatment.

 

FAQ of Diabetic Retinopathy

Q. How do I know which vitamin supplements to take for dry form macular degeneration?

A. There is evidence that antioxidant vitamin supplements can help stabilize normal wear and tear on the eyes and slow progression of macular degeneration. Look for a multivitamin with vitamins A, C, D, E, B complex, zinc and selenium, as well as lutein. The most convenient choice is to use a multivitamin mix made especially for the eyes.

  

Q. Is there anything I can do to prevent macular degeneration?

A. Aside from aging, no specific cause has ever been identified. However, heredity plays a role in many patients, and smoking and high blood pressure have been associated with more severe cases.

  

Q. Can macular degeneration eventually lead to blindness?

A. Almost never. Damage to the macula may make it difficult to read, drive, watch TV and recognize familiar faces. Yet, even if left untreated, macular degeneration rarely impacts the rest of the retina and side vision is usually unaffected.

 

Q. If I’m diabetic, am I automatically at risk for eye problems?

A. Given enough time, about 85 percent of diabetics will develop diabetic eye problems of some sort. Good blood sugar control limits but does not prevent them. About half of patients with diabetes for 10-15 years have some signs of diabetic retinopathy, such as bleeding, or swollen pockets within the retina.

  

Q. As a diabetic, how often should I see an eye doctor?

A. Diabetic retinopathy often takes years to develop, making regular diabetic eye exams critical for people with diabetes. We recommend the following schedule for diabetic eye care: Type 1 diabetes – within five years of being diagnosed, and then yearly; Type 2 diabetes – immediately after you are diagnosed, then yearly; gestational diabetes – pregnant women should schedule an appointment in the first trimester.