Examination and Monitoring of Diabetic Retinopathy
People with diabetes are at a heightened risk for a number of related health problems, including problems affecting the health of the eyes and vision. At first, diabetic retinopathy may be asymptomatic or cause insignificant changes in vision. However, over time it can rob a person of their sight. For this reason, diabetics are strongly advised to see an ophthalmologist regularly to monitor their eyes.
Understanding Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that compromises the health of the eyes and visual acuity. Dangerously high blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels that nourish the retina, or the light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye. The central area of the retina, called the macula, is designed for high acuity vision. It is what enables a person to read, recognize a face or perform tasks like sewing or using a smartphone. The area surrounding the macula is responsible for clear peripheral vision.
The complications of diabetic retinopathy can cause the blood vessels to swell, leak fluid or close and abnormal new blood vessels can develop. If diabetic retinopathy goes unnoticed and untreated, it can eventually lead to irreversible vision loss and even blindness.
Types of Diabetic Retinopathy
There are two stages of diabetic retinopathy: early (nonproliferative) and advanced (proliferative). In the early form, the walls of the blood vessels in the retina weaken and can leak blood and fluid into the retina. The macula can begin to swell. In the advanced form of diabetic retinopathy, the damaged blood vessels close and cause the growth of new irregular blood vessels that leak into the vitreous (clear gel that fills the center of the eye). If the disease continues to progress without treatment, the retina may start to detach, or the intraocular pressure can grow, leading to glaucoma.
Signs of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy normally affects both eyes. Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy include the following:
- Floaters (spots or strings that appear to drift in front of the eyes)
- Blurry, spotty or hazy vision
- Dark or empty spots
- Loss of vision
What Happens During an Exam
People with diabetes are encouraged to work closely with an eye doctor to monitor their condition. Regular diabetic retinal exams are an opportunity for the doctor to take a closer look at the eyes, note any changes and track their progression.
During an exam, special drops are placed in the eyes to dilate the pupils. This enables the ophthalmologist to get a closer look at the inside of the eyes. The doctor will look for leaking blood vessels, abnormal new blood vessels, scar tissue, signs of retinal detachment and any damage to the optic nerve.
The ophthalmologist may perform additional testing such as a fluorescein angiography. During this test, a special dye is injected into the arm and circulates through the eyes, identifying any blood vessels that are closed, leaking or broken down. An optical coherence tomography exam may be performed to capture cross-sectional images of the retina and determine whether fluid has leaked into the retinal tissue.
In addition to these tests, the ophthalmologist may perform vision tests, measure the intraocular pressure for glaucoma and look for signs of cataracts.
Treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy
The primary treatment of diabetic retinopathy is prevention by maintaining good sugar levels and good blood pressure. Depending on the damage, the doctor may also recommend laser treatment.
Contact Fraser Valley Cataract & Laser
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and would like to schedule a retinal exam with our ophthalmologists, please call 604-372-(EYES) 3937 today.