According to the Center for Disease Control, in the U.S. there are 28.6 million diabetics, over 8% of the population. Of those over 60, nearly 27% are diabetic. Within 10 years of their diagnosis of diabetes, 80% of diabetics will get diabetic retinopathy. If certain cases of diabetic retinopathy are, not treated they are at a very high risk of going blind. Each year in the U.S. 25,000 people go blind as a result of diabetic retinopathy—20,000 of those cases could have been avoided with early detection and treatment.

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

One result of diabetes is that blood to nourish the eye does not have enough oxygen. To try to get more oxygen, the eye builds additional blood vessels. These new blood vessels, however, are thin and fragile and are very likely to have blockages, aneurisms or hemorrhages. Swelling of the center of the retina (macular edema, or hemorrhage in the eye), may ultimately lead to blindness.

Healthy Eye

The Importance of Annual Eye Exams

Because the diabetic retinopathy is often progressive, it is very important to have eye exams at least once a year.

Retinal photographs can be very useful in diagnosing early stages of diabetic retinopathy. Research has indicated that 30-40% more disease can be diagnosed using retinal photographs than from eye exams using an ophthalmoscope. Photographs also provide the ability to compare images over time to see if there have been any significant changes.

Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy

Diet and Exercise. In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, no medical intervention may be required, but improvements in diabetic control help reduce the development of the disease. Appropriate diet, exercise, and often medications, are used to promote a proper stable level of blood glucose.

Medications. Some cases of retinopathy may benefit from medical therapy.

Laser photocoagulation. Specific cases of macular edema and pre-proliferative and proliferative retinopathy (cases where new vessels develop) are greatly benefited by laser treatments which can be done in an office setting.

Vitrectomy. In very advanced cases where significant bleeding has occurred in the eye, a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy may be required to remove the blood.

As with most medical procedures, the more advanced the disease, the more costly and risky are the treatments. Early diagnosis is the key to the least invasive and lowest cost treatments.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What can a doctor see by looking at the retina?

A. The retina is the only place in the body were medium-sized and small blood vessels can be viewed directly. Diabetes, hypertension, and the wet-type of macular degeneration all involve changes in the body’s vasculature.

Q. What happens if my retinal photo is abnormal?

A. Ocutronics sends a report to whomever took the photo, who can then arrange for a referral to an eye specialist for further evaluation and treatment, if needed.

Q. If I need laser treatment for my diabetic retinopathy, what is involved?

A. The procedure is done while seated at the laser instrument in an ophthalmologist’s office or out-patient facility. It is done with either topical (eye drops) anesthesia, or sometimes with a an injection of a local anesthetic around the eye. A special lens is placed on the eye and the doctor places laser spots in the eye. It usually is done in less than 1 hour.

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Diabetics are 25 times more likely to lose vision than non-diabetics.
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