If you have been diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, one of the first things that you will undoubtedly be thinking about is whether or not your condition needs treatment and if so, what your options are. The truth is that what treatment is needed will depend on which stage of diabetic retinopathy you are at.
Diabetic retinopathy is a progressive condition. This means that it develops in stages over time, usually as follows:
Stage 1 is known as background retinopathy and is the mildest stage of the condition. Patients who have stage 1 diabetic retinopathy have started to experience tiny bulges in the blood vessels at the back of their eyes which could be starting to leak very small amounts of blood. There are virtually no symptoms at this stage as your sight is unlikely to be affected. You also don’t need any specific treatment, but it is important that you closely monitor and manage your diabetes so that your diabetic retinopathy doesn’t get any worse.
At this stage, patients will experience more significant changes to the blood vessels in the retina, and bleeding worsens. Your vision still might not be affected at this point, but you will be recommended to have more frequent screening to monitor the health of your eyes. Again, managing your diabetes properly is essential.
By this point, new blood vessels and scar tissue will have begun to form on your retina. This can cause considerable bleeding and put you at risk of a very serious condition called retinal detachment during which the retina pulls away from the back of the eye, putting you at a significant risk of losing your vision. Patients who are at stage 3 diabetic retinopathy may find that their vision is becoming affected. At this point, you will be offered treatment to stabilize your eyesight, although it is important to note that there isn’t any way in which your vision can be restored.
Some patients who have diabetic retinopathy are found to have issues with the central part of the retina – an area known as the macula. Blood vessels in the macula can become blocked or start to leak, again putting you at risk of losing your vision. You may be recommended to try one of a number of possible treatments to help prevent any further damage to your eyesight.
Fortunately, there are a number of different techniques that can be attempted to treat moderate to severe diabetic retinopathy. These include the following:
Injections – These are usually recommended for patients with diabetic maculopathy and involve small injections being placed into the eyes. These injections contain a drug known as anti-VEGF which will prevent new blood vessels from forming at the back of the eyes so that they cannot leak or scar and cause further damage to your sight.
Injections are usually given as a series of treatments until your eyes stabilize, after which time the frequency with which you receive them will be extended or your treatment stopped altogether. Although the prospect of eye injections may be frightening, anesthetic is given ahead of each injection so that you aren’t in any discomfort.
Laser treatment – Laser technology has proven to be effective at treating the blood vessels at the back of the eye so that they cannot bleed and cause vision loss. Again, this is carried out using a local anesthetic to ensure that you don’t experience any pain. One treatment may be sufficient to prevent the progression of your diabetic retinopathy, but some patients require multiple sessions.
While it is possible to prevent the progression of diabetic retinopathy further, we would recommend that you commit to carefully managing your diabetes so that you reduce your risk of developing the condition at all.
Eye surgery – In some instances, you may be recommended to undergo surgery to remove extensive scar tissue that has formed, which is often the case in patients with advanced diabetic retinopathy. Patients are given both local anesthetic and sedation to keep them comfortable while the scar tissue is being removed. Occasionally, an overnight stay is necessary after your surgery.
If you would like more information about treatment for diabetic retinopathy, our expert team of eye specialists at Grove Eye Care in Richmond, VA or Midlothian, VA will be happy to assist you. Please don’t hesitate to contact our offices by calling (804) 353-3937 or (804) 888-8998.