Consistent high blood sugar levels damage the walls of the eye and its small blood vessels, which then affects both their function and structure. These tiny blood vessels may leak, thicken, close off, develop clots, or grow defects. This is known as microaneurysms. Often, fluid starts to collect in the area of the retina that was previously used to perform tasks like reading. This disorder is referred to as macular edema. In more severe cases, the retina is deprived of its vital blood supply and then begins to grow new, but flawed, vessels, a process known as neovascularization. These tiny, delicate vessels can bleed and develop vision-weakening hemorrhages, subsequent scar tissue, and also cause retinal detachment (when the retina separates from the back of the eye). The newly developed vessels can additionally impede fluid flow inside the eye and thus produce glaucoma.
It’s imperative for anyone suffering from diabetes to get an eye exam each year in order to detect diabetic retinopathy as early as possible. Visit your ophthalmologist at Atlanta Vision Cataract & Laser Center so they can examine your eyes using a device called an ophthalmoscope, discuss your medical history, and have you read a standard eye chart.
Some of the distinctive features of diabetic retinopathy can’t be seen during a routine eye exam and therefore requires a special exam. In order for the doctor to get a more detailed look inside the eye, he’ll first administer eye drops to dilate the eye’s pupils and then proceed to look at the retina with special lenses and a slit lamp. A fluorescein angiography test can accurately reveal any changes in the function and structure of the retina’s blood vessels. To perform this special test, the doctor will inject a fluorescent dye into your vein and then take pictures of your retina as the dye works to highlight the blood vessels. It’s likely that your eye exam will also consist of a cataract and glaucoma check, both of which develop more often in individuals with diabetes and can also eventually cause problems with vision.
Diabetic retinopathy treatment should ideally involve both an ophthalmologist and a medical doctor. Your regular medical doctor will help control your blood sugar levels as well as treat other diabetes complications that could ultimately affect your heart and kidney function. On the other hand, your ophthalmologist can treat retinopathy directly with either a laser or a surgical process, known as vitrectomy, in order to prevent more vascular changes from occurring and help preserve your vision.
Laser photocoagulation is a treatment that works partly by creating small, pain-free retinal burns that effectively seal off leaking blood vessels and also decrease swelling. The extent of the retinopathy will determine the required number of treatments and burns the doctor makes along with how well the eye responds to the treatment overall. It may take several months to determine whether or not the treatment is actually effective.
Feel free to email us regarding any scheduling or general questions!