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Diabetic Retinopathy

People with diabetes are at a higher risk for developing several eye conditions that can cause vision loss or blindness. Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye complication and a leading cause of blindness. With diabetic retinopathy the blood vessels of the retina become abnormal and develop tiny leaks, causing fluid or blood to seep into the retina. When fluid accumulates in this region of the eye, it becomes swollen and does not work properly. This is called macular edema, which causes the central vision to become blurry. The damaged retina– the light sensitive area at the back of the eye—fails to send visual images to the brain.

An estimated 60 percent of people who have had diabetes for 15 years or more have some level of blood vessel damage.

Diagnosing Diabetic Retinopathy

Early detection is the most important step in preventing vision loss. People with diabetes should receive a comprehensive eye exam at least once a year. Although a gradual blurring of sight may indicate diabetic retinopathy, typically changes in the eye may go unnoticed until there is a significant damage. The earlier the diagnosis and treatment, the more effective efforts will be at preserving your sight.

During an eye exam at Southern Kentucky Eye, Dr. Henry will examine the interior of the eye with an ophthalmoscope. Photos of the interior of the eye may also be taken. If there is evidence of blood vessel damage, a special exam called a fluorescein angiography will be conducted.

During a fluorescein angiography, dye will be injected in your arm and photos taken as the dye passes through the blood vessels in your retina. This will allow the Dr. Henry to identify any blood vessels that may be leaking and to determine how best to correct the problem.

Each patient’s treatment plan is individual and may be based on the patient’s medical history, age, lifestyle, and degree of damage to the retina. In its earliest stages, no treatment may be required for diabetic retinopathy except regular monitoring by the physician. If treatment is required, your Southern Kentucky Eye surgeon will use laser surgery to seal or shrink the leaking blood vessels in a process called photocoagulation.

Steps to Prevent Vision Loss

Controlling diabetes is the most important step patients can take to prevent further progression of diabetic retinopathy. Taking an active role in monitoring blood sugar levels, keeping blood pressure at a healthy range, eating a nutritious diet, taking all medications as prescribed and exercise can make a significant difference. Remember, even when you do not notice vision changes, scheduling regular vision check-ups is essential for every person with diabetes.

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