Given the lack of early warning signs and symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, detecting it at its earliest stages can be difficult. At Bay State Eye Associates in Leominster, MA, our experienced staff will guide you through the process of assessment, diagnosis, and treatment with highly personalized care and expertise.
What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is the result of blockage or damage in blood vessels inside the retina due to a history of uncontrolled blood sugar. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can also play a role in its development. Given the number of blood vessels present in the retina, the inflammatory response produced by a history of high blood sugar and/or hypertension causes the vessels to be blocked, triggering a growth of weak blood vessels. Because these vessels are weak, they can leak and produce scar tissue, potentially causing vision impairment.
There are two types of diabetic retinopathy, including non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) and proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR). NPDR is less severe than PDR and is characterized by the lack of new blood vessel formation in the retina and is categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. PDR is the most severe form of diabetic retinopathy and is indicated by the growth of irregular blood vessels in the eye.
Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy
In its earliest stages, diabetic retinopathy does not generally cause symptoms. However, as it progresses vague visual symptoms can manifest, such as dark spots in your vision or “floaters,” reduced night vision, blurred vision, and impaired color vision. While these may resemble other eye conditions, if you have a diabetes diagnosis, it’s especially important to have a thorough eye exam to rule out diabetic retinopathy.
We have a few different methods of diagnosing diabetic retinopathy including a dilated eye exam, a fluorescein angiography test, and imaging known as optical coherence tomography. The dilated eye exam allows us to open your pupils using special eye drops and then use a light to look at the inside of the eye. The fluorescein angiography test uses an injectable, traceable dye, which is then tracked as it flows from the administration site in the arm to your eye. Optical coherence tomography allows us to take a detailed image of the retina for examination.
Treating Diabetic Retinopathy
There are various treatment options for diabetic retinopathy including injections, surgery, and medical maintenance. Injections known as anti-vascular endothelial growth factor, or anti-VEGF are used to inhibit abnormal blood vessel growth and retinal fluid and have increasingly become the standard of care as an initial treatment option for diabetic retinopathy. Surgeries including photocoagulation, where lasers are used to seal leaking vessels, and/or vitrectomy, where vitreous gel in the center of the eye is removed, may also be used. Medical management of diabetes and hypertension has also been shown to decrease the severity and slow the onset of diabetic retinopathy.