Diabetic Retinopathy

Understanding Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a disease that affects diabetic people and eventually leads to blurry, distorted vision and blindness. When people suffer from diabetes they may often have unstable glucose levels and they are prone to circulation problems in the back of the eye, known as the retina. The retina is a very sensitive part of the eye that is responsible for interpreting the images that you see and then transmitting these images to the brain. In the case that someone is diabetic, they may experience a restriction on the flow of blood through the vessels within the retina. When this restriction occurs, swelling, bleeding and even hemorrhaging may result. Aside from the threat of blood, sometimes fluid can collect under the retina this problem is known as macular edema.

Many diabetic patients can have diabetic retinopathy without knowing it. Usually, there is no pain and no outward sign. Over time, you may notice gradual blurring or some vision loss. Symptoms may come and go. If diabetic retinopathy is severe, you may have clouded vision or blindness. You should have regular eye exams to help your doctor detect changes in your eyes before your vision is damaged. Treatment may help slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy and sometimes can restore lost vision. Your treatment depends on your condition, but may include frequent exams to monitor your condition, laser treatment, surgery or other procedures.

If you or a family member have diabetes, be sure to schedule a comprehensive eye examination to protect your vision. At Tidewater Eye Centers, our experienced retina specialist can provide you with expert retina care. If you are diabetic, contact us today! The proper diagnosis of Diabetic Retinopathy is made during a routine eye examination by directly observing the retina through a dilated pupil but often requires further testing with Fluorescein Angiography and Ocular Coherence Tomography (OCT).

Diagnosing Diabetic Retinopathy

It is very common that diabetic retinopathy can be found during routine eye exams at one of our Virginia eye care locations. As previously stated, the diagnosis of Diabetic Retinopathy is made during a routine eye examination by directly observing the retina through a dilated pupil but often requires further testing with Flourescein Angiography and Ocular Coherence Tomography (OCT).

“Nearly half of people with diabetes have some degree of diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that can result in blindness. After 20 years with diabetes, most patients have diabetic retinopathy. Treatment depends on the severity of the condition.” (quote from MAYO CLINIC)

Treatment Options

Treating diabetic retinopathy requires a skilled retina surgeon for careful evaluation. When changes are found, there are some useful treatments depending on the nature and severity of the diabetic retinopathy. These include: laser treatment, therapeutic injections of Avastin and Lucentis, and if a hemorrhage has occurred into the eye, vitrectomy or surgical removal of the vitreous.

Panretinal Photocoagulation (PRP)

There are two types of laser treatment. The first is known as Panretinal Photocoagulation (PRP) and it consists of laser spots being burned into a wide area across the retina tissue to help to decrease the retina’s need for oxygen. For this surgery the patient’s eyes are dilated and numbed. The doctor then focuses the laser on the appropriate locations on the retina and places the laser spots. Sometimes the outer vision of one’s eye is destroyed but the treatment helps save the crucial part center part of one’s vision. The patient will experience light flashes. Since a laser is used, the patient will experience some discomfort but healing time is quick, although a driver for the trip home is required.

Focal Laser Photocoagulation

The second type of laser treatment for diabetic retinopathy is Focal Laser Photocoagulation. During this procedure, the blood vessels of the eye are sealed and shrunken. This procedure feels the same as the first laser treatment, and the patient is given mild numbing drops. This is performed in earlier stages of diabetic retinopathy in order to eliminate leaky blood vessels.


Vitrectomy is a different kind of retina surgical procedure that removes the vitreous so your surgeon can repair the damaged portion of your eye. Once the defect is repaired, the surgeon replaces the emptied cavity with a gas bubble. Since gas rises and the macula and retina are at the back of the eye, recovering patients must remain facedown in order for the gas bubble to effectively apply pressure to the area in need of healing. This allows the macula or retina to re-bond to the eye wall and a new vitreous to eventually replace the gas bubble.

Although a vitrectomy is a relatively painless procedure with a strong, successful track record in improving vision, the recovery from vitrectomy is often more challenging because patients must contend with the monotony, stress and discomfort of a 23-hour-a-day  facedown-postoperative position. Most vitreo-retinal ophthalmologists agree that a vitrectomy is most successful when patients fully comply with facedown recovery instructions.