Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease and a leading cause of blindness in the United States. Keeping blood sugar under control is the only way to prevent retinopathy. Once it develops, you’ll need the expertise of the doctors at Eye Care Center of Kauai, in Lihue, Hawaii, to provide optimal treatment such as advanced laser surgery, and to monitor the ongoing health of your eyes to prevent vision loss.

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What is diabetic retinopathy?

People who have diabetes are at risk for several eye diseases, including diabetic retinopathy. When blood sugar isn’t controlled, it damages small blood vessels in the eyes. That damage continues to get worse over time, progressing through two stages:

Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy
During this early stage of diabetic retinopathy, damaged blood vessels leak, which in turn causes swelling in the retina. Macular edema occurs when the center of the retina and the macula swells. This is the most common cause of vision loss from diabetic retinopathy. As diabetic retinopathy progresses, blood vessels begin to close off, which blocks blood flow to the retina and leads to the next stage, proliferative diabetic retinopathy.

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy
When diabetic retinopathy reaches an advanced stage, the retina starts growing new blood vessels. However, that’s not beneficial because these extra blood vessels are fragile and bleed into the eye. Light bleeding causes floaters, while heavy bleeding is serious and can cause complete loss of vision.

The new blood vessels may also form scar tissue, which can cause a detached retina. If the new blood vessels interfere with the normal flow of fluid out of the eye, pressure will build up inside the eye, resulting in glaucoma.

What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?

When diabetic retinopathy begins to develop, you probably won’t be aware there’s a problem because you won’t have any symptoms. Then, as the conditions worsens, you’ll begin to notice:

  • Blurry vision
  • Increasing number of floaters
  • Vision that changes from blurry to clear
  • Blank or dark areas in your field of vision
  • Poor night vision
  • Colors appear faded or washed out
  • Loss of vision

How is diabetic retinopathy treated?

After your doctor at the Eye Care Center of Kauai examines your eyes, a treatment plan will be developed based on the severity of your retinopathy.

The first step always revolves around getting blood sugar under control because that’s the only way to stop the condition from getting worse.

Your doctor may also prescribe medications to reduce swelling, which should slow vision loss and may improve your vision.

If retinopathy has already advanced to macular edema or proliferative retinopathy, you may need immediate surgery to prevent vision loss.

Laser surgery can effectively seal leaking blood vessels or shrink abnormal blood vessels and prevent them from growing again.

Another surgical procedure, a vitrectomy, may be considered for removing blood or scar tissue from the middle of the eye.