Diabetic Retinopathy is one of the most serious eye complications caused by diabetes. Diabetic Retinopathy is caused from damage to the blood vessels of the retina, which is a layer of tissue located at the back of the inner eye. Its function is to change light and images entering the eye into nerve signals, which reaches the brain and allows us vision.  Damage to the retina occurs of a period of time as high blood pressure and/or high blood sugars which are not controlled cause the tiny blood vessels of the retina to swell and become weak. Over time, these blood vessels become blocked and blood flow to the eye is disturbed or completely cut off. The damage results in slowly progressing vision problem and eventually blindness in one or both eyes.

Treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy

Retinopathy has two stages non proliferative and proliferative. Patients suffering from non-proliferative stage of diabetic retinopathy may not need any treatment, but will require regular screening to prevent the progression of the disease. No treatment can restore the damage, but it can stop further damage. Let’s take a look at two of the laser treatments used for diabetic retinopathy:

  • Localized Laser Treatment: If a single blood vessel or small groups of vessels are leaking, a localized laser is used to seal them and stop bleeding. This relatively quick treatment takes only a few minutes and reduces swelling of blood vessels. Localized laser treatment is used in cases of early proliferative retinopathy or maculopathy.
  • Pan Retinal Laser Treatment: If new vessel growth has been detected, more extensive laser treatment than the localized laser is required. The Pan Retinal Treatment treats large areas of the peripheral retina and stops he growth of new blood vessels. It also causes any newly grown blood vessels to shrink and disappear over a few months post treatment.

Process of Laser Treatments:

Laser treatments for diabetic retinopathy are typically done on an outpatient basis and no hospitalization is required. Equipment, much like that used in a routine eye examination, is used for the procedure, however it’s been modified to accept a fiber optic cable which houses the laser. Eye drops are used to anaesthetize the eyes and a therapeutic contact lens is inserted in the eye – which keeps the patient from blinking during the procedure. The patient will experience bright flashes of light, as the treatment is started, but without any pain. Typically the procedure will last about 10 minutes, during which time the eye must stay as still as possible for accurate laser application and to avoid damage to other parts of the eye.

Because the eye must remain perfectly still during the treatment, the Ophthalmologist will work with you to create a safe method of non-verbal communication. This is done so that should treatment need to stop, the patient has a way to communicate that. Typically this is done through a throat noise or raising of a hand. It’s important to remember that any head or jaw movement may displace the laser beam.

After treatment, the patient may be very dazed and laser spots may be visible, these typically clear after a few days. No special precautions are required following treatment and no additional medications, eye drops or treatments are required. The Localized Laser Treatment us not normally painful and the Pan Retinal Laser Treatment is known to cause some discomfort and a pain relieving tablet is given.

Side Effects of Laser Treatment:

There are some side effects to having laser treatment for diabetic retinopathy. Common side effects include a reduction in color vision and small dark spots near the central vision.

A rare side effect occurs if the patient looks directly at the beam of the laser during the treatment, especially if the lasers power setting is on anything other than a very low setting. If this happens, the fovea can be damaged and cause severe vision loss. Again this is rare.

It’s important to remember that Diabetic Retinopathy is not reversible, but with treatment it can prevent further damage from occurring. Work closely with your diabetic medical team to help you understand diabetes as well as its complications and their prevention.