- Dubai Health Care City, Dubai, UAE
WHAT IS DIABETIC EYE DISEASE?
Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye problems that people with diabetes may face as a complication of diabetes. All can cause severe vision loss or even blindness.
Diabetic eye disease may include:
Diabetic retinopathy—damage to the blood vessels in the retina.
Cataract—clouding of the eye’s lens. Cataracts develop at an earlier age in people with diabetes.
Glaucoma—increase in fluid pressure inside the eye that leads to optic nerve damage and loss of vision. A person with diabetes is nearly twice as likely to get glaucoma as other adults.
SYMPTOMS AND DETECTION
Often there are no symptoms in the early stages of the disease, nor is there any pain. Don’t wait for symptoms. Be sure to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.
Blurred vision may occur when the macula—the part of the retina that provides sharp central vision—swells from leaking fluid. This condition is called macular edema.
If new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina, they can bleed into the eye and block vision.
During the first three stages of diabetic retinopathy, no treatment is needed, unless you have macular edema. To prevent progression of diabetic retinopathy, people with diabetes should control their levels of blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol.
Proliferative retinopathy is treated with laser surgery. This procedure is called scatter laser treatment. Scatter laser treatment helps to shrink the abnormal blood vessels. Your doctor places 1,000 to 2,000 laser burns in the areas of the retina away from the macula, causing the abnormal blood vessels to shrink. Because a high number of laser burns are necessary, two or more sessions usually are required to complete treatment. Although you may notice some loss of your side vision, scatter laser treatment can save the rest of your sight. Scatter laser treatment may slightly reduce your color vision and night vision.
Scatter laser treatment works better before the fragile, new blood vessels have started to bleed. That is why it is important to have regular, comprehensive dilated eye exams. Even if bleeding has started, scatter laser treatment may still be possible, depending on the amount of bleeding.
If the bleeding is severe, you may need a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy. During a vitrectomy, blood is removed from the center of your eye.
HOW IS A MACULAR EDEMA TREATED?
Macular edema is treated with laser surgery. This procedure is called focal laser treatment. Your doctor places up to several hundred small laser burns in the areas of retinal leakage surrounding the macula. These burns slow the leakage of fluid and reduce the amount of fluid in the retina. The surgery is usually completed in one session. Further treatment may be needed.
A patient may need focal laser surgery more than once to control the leaking fluid. If you have macular edema in both eyes and require laser surgery, generally only one eye will be treated at a time, usually several weeks apart.
Focal laser treatment stabilizes vision. In fact, focal laser treatment reduces the risk of vision loss by 50 percent. In a small number of cases, if vision is lost, it can be improved. Contact your eye care professional if you have vision loss.
NEI research found that prompt treatment of macular edema with the drug Lucentis, with or without laser treatment, resulted in better vision than laser treatment alone or steroid injections. When injected into the eye, Lucentis, and two other similar drugs, Avastin or Aylea, reduce fluid leakage and interfere with the growth of new blood vessels in the retina. NEI is sponsoring a study comparing the three drugs, in the mean time, your doctor will help you decide what is best for you.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING LASER TREATMENT?
Both focal and scatter laser treatment are performed in your doctor’s office or eye clinic. Before the surgery, your doctor will dilate your pupil and apply drops to numb the eye. The area behind your eye also may be numbed to prevent discomfort.
The lights in the office will be dim. As you sit facing the laser machine, your doctor will hold a special lens to your eye. During the procedure, you may see flashes of light. These flashes eventually may create a stinging sensation that can be uncomfortable.
You will need someone to drive you home after surgery. Because your pupil will remain dilated for a few hours, you should bring a pair of sunglasses.
For the rest of the day, your vision will probably be a little blurry. If your eye hurts, your doctor can suggest treatment.
Laser surgery and appropriate follow-up care can reduce the risk of blindness by 90 percent. However, laser surgery often cannot restore vision that has already been lost. That is why finding diabetic retinopathy early is the best way to prevent vision loss.