What is diabetic retinopathy? Diabetic retinopathy is the eye disease caused by diabetes. Symptoms can range from having no symptoms, slight blurring, severe vision loss and even blindness.
Every diabetic patient is at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy during their lifetime. Every diabetic patient should have at least an annual eye exam regardless of sugar control, A1C and how well you see. Ideally, you should get examined while you are still 20/20!
There are two situations which require treatment. Diabetic macular edema (DME) is the most common complication of diabetic retinopathy. This occurs when the normal retinal vessels lead fluid in or near the macula – the functional center of the retina. Common treatments include laser treatment, intaocular injections of anti-VEGF agents (e.g. Avastin, Lucentis, Eylea) or injections of steroids (e.g. Triesence, Kenalog, Ozurdex and Iluvien). Ozurdex and Iluvien are sustained release products and release drug for months to years.
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy is defined by the presence of abnormal blood vessels growing somewhere inside the eye – usually on the retina. These abnormal blood vessels, called neovascularization, can cause a painful type of glaucoma (called neovascular glaucoma) or a retinal detachment.
Thus, proliferative diabetic retinopathy is the stage of the disease which can lead to blindness.
Treatments for proliferative diabetic retinopathy involve laser (pan-retinal photocoagulation, aka PRP) or sometimes anti-VEGF agents – although the effects of anti-VEGF are temporary when treating neovascular tissue.
In summary, every diabetic patient should be examined at least once a year. By getting timely and early examinations, the chance of sustaining significant vision loss is less than 1% in your lifetime.
All the best!
Randall Wong, M.D.