The best treatment for diabetic retinopathy is to prevent it. Strict control of your blood sugar will significantly reduce the long-term risk of vision loss. Treatment usually won't cure diabetic retinopathy nor does it usually restore normal vision, but it may slow the progression of vision loss. Without treatment, diabetic retinopathy progresses steadily from minimal to severe stages.
The laser is a very bright, finely focused light. It passes through the clear cornea, lens and vitreous without affecting them in any way. Laser surgery shrinks abnormal new vessels and reduces macular swelling. Treatment is often recommended for people with macular edema, proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) and neovascular glaucoma.
Laser surgery is usually performed in an office setting. For comfort during the procedure, an anesthetic eyedrop is often all that is necessary, although an anesthetic injection is sometimes given next to the eye. The patient sits at an instrument called a slit-lamp microscope. A contact lens is temporarily placed on the eye in order to focus the laser light on the retina with pinpoint accuracy.
With laser surgery for macular edema, tiny laser burns are applied near the macula to reduce fluid leakage. The main goal of treatment is to prevent further loss of vision by reducing the swelling of the macula. It is uncommon for people who have blurred vision from macular edema to recover normal vision, although some may experience partial improvement.
A few people may see laser spots near the center of their vision following treatment. They usually fade with time, but may not disappear completely.
In PDR, the laser is applied to all parts of the retina except the macula (called PRP, or panretinal photocoagulation). This treatment causes abnormal new vessels to shrink and often prevents them from growing in the future. It also decreases the chance that vitreous bleeding or retinal distortion will occur. Panretinal laser has proven to be very effective for preventing severe vision loss from vitreous hemorrhage and traction retinal detachment.
Multiple laser treatments over time may be necessary. Laser surgery does not cure diabetic retinopathy and does not always prevent further loss of vision.
Vitrectomy is a surgical procedure performed in a hospital or ambulatory surgery center operating room. It is often performed on an outpatient basis or with a short hospital stay. Either a local or general anesthetic may be used.
During vitrectomy surgery, an operating microscope and small surgical instruments are used to remove blood and scar tissue that accompany abnormal vessels in the eye. Removing the vitreous hemorrhage allows light rays to focus on the retina again.
Vitrectomy often prevents further vitreous hemorrhage by removing the abnormal vessels that caused the bleeding. Removal of the scar tissue helps the retina return to its normal location. Laser surgery may be performed during vitrectomy surgery.
To help the retina heal in place, your ophthalmologist may place a gas or oil bubble in the vitreous space. You may be told to keep your head in certain positions while the bubble helps to heal the retina. It is important to follow your ophthalmologist's instructions so your eye will heal properly.
In some cases, medication may be used to help treat diabetic retinopathy. Sometimes a steroid medication is used. In other cases, you may be given an anti-VEGF medication. This medication works by blocking a substance known as vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF. This substance contributes to abnormal blood vessel growth in the eye which can affect your vision. An anti-VEGF drug can help reduce the growth of these abnormal blood vessels.
After your pupil is dilated and your eye is numbed with anesthesia, the medication is injected into the vitreous, or jelly-like substance in the back chamber of the eye. The medication reduces the swelling, leakage, and growth of unwanted blood vessel growth in the retina, and may improve how well you see.
Medication treatments may be given once or as a series of injections at regular intervals, usually around every four to six weeks or as determined by your doctor.