How Laser Surgery Is Not The Only Treatment For Diabetic Retinopathy

 By: Kate Dawson
Unfortunately, in many medical areas, diabetes can greatly narrow the treatment options available to patients, and when it comes to matters of the eye, this is also true. But with diabetics statistically more vulnerable to conditions like cataracts and glaucoma, having a range of effective treatments is still essential. One of the most serious conditions to which diabetics are at risk is diabetic retinopathy, but laser surgery is just one treatment that is proven to be highly effective.

The prevalence of diabetes means that many people are at risk of developing eye conditions, like glaucoma, cataracts and retinopathy, particularly as they get older in age. And while, in the past, there may have been a limited possibility of making a full recovery, modern treatments have proven to be highly effective, with lasik eye surgery a favoured option.

As its name suggests, retinopathy is a disease of the retina which causes non inflammatory damage. It is a general term, with a large number of variants, each with a number of different causes. For example, hypertensive retinopathy is caused by arterial hypertension, while solar retinopathy is caused by exposure of the eye to direct sunlight. Like all of these variants, the diabetic form can progress to a stage whereby sight is either severely impaired or completely lost.

The link between diabetes and retinopathy lies in how diabetes affects the blood vessels and capillaries around the retina. Basically, the existing vessels can become blocked over time, leading to a gradual drain of much needed oxygen and other nourishment to the retina.

The eye responds by growing more vessels on the retina to compensate for the loss. The walls of these vessels are weak, which leads to leaks and can advance to further problems. And, with more vessels leaking more blood, less light is absorbed by the retina. The result, therefore, is a regression in eye sight that can become extreme if not treated.

There are a number of stages to the condition, but they can generally be separated into three non proliferated and one proliferated stages. Mild and moderate non proliferative retinopathy can go unnoticed, with the third stage, referred to as severe, seeing a slight effect on vision.

However, it is not until the condition reaches the proliferative stage, when blood actively leaks from the capillary walls, that the real visual problems begin to occur. When this bleeding starts, it can cause scarring between the retina itself and the gel in the eye, and as the scar tissue builds the risk of permanent damage to the retina, and therefore permanent blindness, increases.

In general, adapting their regular diabetes treatment can serve to stunt the progression of retinopathy in diabetics in the early stages of the condition. However, once it has progressed to a proliferative stage then more definite treatment is needed.

This is where laser surgery plays its part, with a skilled and experienced surgeon creating thousands of laser burns around the retina in order to shrink the new blood vessels it is growing. Because of the large number of laser burns that needs to be created, it may require a number of visits to a surgeon.

The surgery is most effective before the vessels have leaked to a major degree. Should the blood leakage already be severe, then laser treatment may not be enough, and a vitrectomy is needed. This surgical procedure involves extracting the leaked blood from the centre of the eye. After this is done, laser treatment can then patch up the bleeding points to prevent any more new blood vessels being grown.

The development of these procedures has ensured that what was once seen as a hopeless condition is now treatable, even at its latest stage. Thanks to the perfection of lasik eye surgery, and its application in such serious eye conditions, the laser plays no small part in ensuring treatment options exist for diabetics.

However, in order to prevent diabetic retinopathy advancing to its most advanced stage, and making such serious surgical procedures necessary, diabetics are encouraged to take a comprehensive eye exam at least once a year. This is to ensure that the condition can be identified as early as possible. Retinal scanning and fluorescein angiography can both help to detect the condition early on.

And with research showing that the same contributing factors to retinal damage contribute to the common stroke, it is obvious that maintaining a healthy lifestyle and diet can prevent the development of retinography in everyone, not just amongst diabetics.
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