Managing Diabetic Retinopathy: Treatment Options and Lifestyle Changes
Did you know? Research suggests that daily coffee consumption may benefit diabetic retinopathy by reducing type 2 diabetes incidence and changing the retinal microvasculature (tiny blood vessels) in adults at risk of cardiovascular issues.
Although additional studies are needed, with this incurable eye condition, any good news is welcome. By managing your diabetes and vision health and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you may be able to slow or stop its progression. Nonsurgical and surgical techniques may reduce additional damage and restore retinal function.
Diabetic Retinopathy: What To Expect
Anyone with diabetes — type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes (occurring in pregnancy) — is at risk for diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness for American adults. With diabetic retinopathy, chronic (long term), increased blood sugar (glucose) levels harm the retina’s tiny blood vessels. Not only are both eyes usually affected, but risks for other eye conditions, like glaucoma and cataracts, may increase.
Diabetic Retinopathy: Forms and Complications
Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, the more common form, develops earlier, and initially has no symptoms. As blockages develop, you may have blurred vision, decreased clarity, fluctuating vision quality, cotton wool spots (white retinal areas), retinal swelling or bleeding, and exudate (fatty and protein deposits). You may develop diabetic macular edema, in which blood and other fluids accumulate in the retina’s center, the macula, the structure that enables sharp, straight-ahead vision. This can permanently damage retinal nerve cells.
Over time, you may develop the rarer, more advanced form, proliferative diabetic retinopathy. It’s characterized by the continuous growth of abnormal, delicate blood vessels in the retina and the vitreous (or vitreous gel), the clear, jellylike substance comprising most of the eye. Among its symptoms are floaters, hazy vision, and difficulties seeing in low-light conditions. This form may require immediate medical attention.
Complications may include vitreous hemorrhage, retinal detachment, permanent blindness, and the loss of an eye. You could also be at risk for neovascular glaucoma, involving blood vessel growth on the iris.
Maintain Both Vision and Diabetes Health
With diabetic retinopathy, you must monitor your retinal health. Anyone with diabetes, particularly senior patients, needs a comprehensive dilated eye examination at least once a year. Your ophthalmologist will thoroughly inspect your eyes for aberrant blood vessels, bleeding, leakage, swelling, and retinal detachment. Mention any visual changes, including sudden changes or blurry, spotty, or hazy vision. If dark, floating spots or cobweb-like streaks appear, get immediate medical treatment.
With diabetic retinopathy, it’s imperative to ensure proper diabetes health, including your glucose levels. You must take your insulin and other medications as prescribed. Your doctor can prescribe a glycosylated hemoglobin test (hemoglobin A1C), which measures average blood sugar levels for the previous 2-3 months. Ideally, you want an average level below 7%.
Patients should maintain healthy cholesterol and blood pressure. For blood pressure, your goal should be less than 130/80 mm Hg. You’ll also have to follow a healthy lifestyle, including consuming a nutrient-rich diet, getting regular exercise, and avoiding harmful habits like smoking.
Learn About Diabetic Retinopathy Treatments
Generally, your ophthalmologist will first monitor your eyes. If your condition progresses and your vision changes, they may recommend treatments to reduce additional damage and possibly restore retinal function, including:
- Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) drugs are injectable medications that may stop blood vessels from leaking in the eye, or slow the process, while preventing new blood vessel growth. Retina specialists may also inject corticosteroids.
- Laser photocoagulation involves brief spots of bright light scattered through the retina’s sides. It reduces abnormal blood vessel growth, helps seal the retina to the back of the eye, and decreases bleeding and retinal detachment risks.
- Vitrectomy, a surgical procedure, involves the vitreous’ removal from the back of the eye.
Take Control of Your Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy patients can live normal lives provided they manage their condition, including vision and diabetes health. You and your doctor or ophthalmologist can discuss lifestyle tips and changes. If you have any questions or you’d like to schedule a diabetic retinopathy exam, please contact us for an appointment.