One vision problem that’s more common than you might think is diabetic retinopathy, which the National Institute of Health estimates affects 40- 45% of all people who suffer from either type I or type II diabetes. In fact, diabetic retinopathy is the number one cause of blindness in adult Americans.
Retinopathy is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina, a part on the back of the eyeball that is fundamental in vision. The blood vessels may either enlarge and leak fluid, or may grow abnormally on the surface of the retina. Both can cause vision loss.
Laser Treatment: The Standard Treatment
Since the 1970’s, the main way to control retinopathy has been through the use of laser treatment. This treatment option aims at preventing further vision loss by blasting away the abnormal blood vessels on the retina.
This treatment is effective, but can cause small blind spots on the eye, called scotomas, which are often so miniscule that they go unnoticed. Sometimes they can cause aggravation, noticeable blind spots, or even blindness.
Breaking Ground with Injections
A new promising treatment option has recently emerged for sufferers of retinopathy. Rather than using laser treatment, this option involves injections of corticosteroids and other medication into the eye. These medications work to stabilize leaky blood vessels and to prohibit the production of a protein that causes leaky vessels.
This treatment moves beyond laser treatment because it helps prevent additional abnormal vessels from developing and it may also help the retina return to its normal thickness. The effectiveness of the treatment though comes at a cost.
While laser treatment involves a one-time 30-40 minute outpatient surgery, injections are required every four to six weeks for several years. While injections may not be the best option for all sufferers of diabetic retinopathy, they provide another treatment option.
The Importance of Eye Exams
The best way to ward off vision loss caused by retinopathy is to catch it early with yearly eye exams. In fact, many ophthalmologists detect that a patient has diabetes before their doctor does because of changes in their eye.
Receiving eye exams, then, are pivotal for everyone, especially those with diabetes. Those with type I or type II diabetes should have their vision tested every year by a qualified ophthalmologist.
Most ophthalmologists provide thorough eye exams and expert advice to their patients, including detection of diabetic retinopathy. If you’d like to learn more about other vision conditions and treatment options browse our newly created website blog on vision.