Diabetic Retinopathy

Retinal damage, as a complication of diabetes, is called diabetic retinopathy.  It is one of the leading causes of adult blindness in the United States.  There are very small blood vessels inside the retina at the back of the eye.  Diabetes can cause changes, such as fluid leakage or abnormal growth, in these blood vessels.  The resulting retinal degradation can lead to complete vision loss.

Symptoms and Signs

Patients may not experience symptoms or pain in the beginning stages of diabetic retinopathy; however, this condition can progress and become serious rapidly. Dr. Smith performs regular comprehensive eye exams in order to prevent severe vision loss and blindness. He also urges patients to come in for an eye exam between regularly scheduled visits if they experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Near or far decreased vision
  • Seeing floaters or spots
  • A shadow, called scotoma, in vision
  • Eye pain
  • Fluctuation in vision ability – blurriness, spots or floaters that come and go
  • Ocular neuropathy which may cause involuntary eye movement or double vision

Risks and Contributing Factors

Anyone diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes has a high risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. The likelihood increases when the following factors are present:

  • Uncontrolled blood sugar
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk also increases with time

Diagnosis

Dr. Smith’s diabetic patients are evaluated regularly for diabetic retinopathy during their comprehensive, clinical eye exam. Upon finding evidence of retinal damage or the presence of symptoms, Dr. Smith uses high quality testing equipment, such as: ocular coherence tomography (OCT), fluorescein angiogram, or fundus photography for a more conclusive evaluation of the retina.

  • OCT – Provides cross-sectional views of the interior of the eye by using light waves.
  • Fluorescein angiography – A high-contrast imaging test used to look at blood vessels in the back of the eye.
  • Fundus photography – A camera with low-powered microscope technology used to photograph the interior of the eye.

Treatment

Treatment of diabetic retinopathy, at the Smith-Perry Eye Center, begins with routine eye exams to monitor eye health. Dr. Smith will discuss prevention and corrective procedure options with the patient. The first line of defense against the progression of retinal damage is to control blood sugar levels carefully. Dr. Smith treats more advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy using the using either Anti-VGEF drugs or the Argon laser in order to stop the progression of the condition.

  • Focal laser photocoagulation – This laser treatment stops the leaking or abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina.
  • Panretinal photocoagulation – This laser procedure eliminates certain parts of the retina that are not used for central vision. This inhibits the growth of abnormal blood vessels, in these peripheral retina areas, that contribute to retinal damage.
  • Anti VGEF Drugs – Anti-VGEF drugs have recently been shown to work extremely well for diabetic retinopathy without the resulting damage and scarring to the retina that the laser inevitably causes.