These new blood vessels (neovascularization) are abnormal and can cause more damage. This is called proliferative retinopathy.
Retinopathy is the most common diabetic complication in the eye. However, diabetes can also increase the risk of glaucoma. Abnormal blood vessels can grow and block the release of fluid from the eye, causing the pressure to rise. This form of proliferative retinopathy can cause blindness very quickly. Diabetes can also cause cataracts to form more quickly and at a younger age. Diabetes can affect the blood flow to the nerves that move the eyes and the eyelids. This causes drooping eyelids and crossed eyes that can last for months.
The best way to avoid complications from diabetes is to keep the blood sugar under control. Maintaining a good diet and exercise is a must. However, even with good control, some people will develop these complications. Fortunately there are treatments.
When there is leakage near the center of the retina it is called macular edema. If the leakage and swelling get too close to the center of the macula it must be treated. An eye exam and a special test called an angiogram are used to help determine the location and extent of the swelling.
An angiogram is performed by injecting dye into the arm and allowing it to travel through the bloodstream to the eye. Once there, a special camera takes pictures of the dye in the blood vessels. If the blood vessels are leaking then the dye will leak out as well. If the leakage is too close to the center of the macula a laser is used to seal off the leaking vessel. Even though the laser targets the blood vessel, it will damage a small spot of the surrounding retina. These spots can affect the vision. A newer treatment is the injection of medication into the eye that treats the edema without causing damage to the retina.
When there are new blood vessels or neovascularization a different laser treatment is used. The new vessels form because the damaged retina releases a chemical that signals for the growth of new blood vessels. The part of the retina producing the chemical has to be treated to stop this process. This is done by using a laser to treat the outside or peripheral retina. Unfortunately, when the damage has reached this point, there is usually some permanent vision loss.
As mentioned earlier, alternative treatments include injecting medicine into the eye to decrease the leakage. This treatment does not cause the destruction that laser can. However, it can have other side effects and often requires multiple injections.
Diabetes is being caught earlier and treated more effectively than in the past. But, it still is a common cause of blindness. The best treatment is prevention by maintaining good blood sugar control, exercising regularly and eating properly. Most important is to have regular eye exams. Diabetes is affecting the blood vessels throughout the body. The eye is the only organ where the damage can be seen. So, maintaining a vision of health is important to maintaining a body of health.