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Diabetes and Eye Problems

Treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy continued...

Laser treatment for retinopathy, called laser photocoagulation, works in part by creating tiny, painless retinal burns that seal off leaking vessels and reduce swelling. The number of burns your doctor makes and the number of treatments you need depend on the type and extent of your retinopathy and how well it responds to treatment. You may have to wait several months to find out if this treatment is improving your condition.

Your doctor may recommend vitrectomy surgery if you have a hemorrhage that doesn't clear, if you have retinal detachment, or if laser treatment doesn't sufficiently halt the growth of new vessels. During vitrectomy, the doctor drains the gel-like substance inside the eye, allowing her to clear any lingering blood and to remove scar tissue. The vitreous fluid is then replaced with a substitute fluid.

Rare complications of treatment may include blurred vision, headache, glaucoma, difficulty seeing in the dark, decreased peripheral and color vision, and bleeding. In most cases when treatment is recommended, the benefits outweigh the risks.

Although both of these treatments can be very effective, your expectations for either treatment should be realistic. Typically laser or surgical treatment will not restore lost vision; however, treatment can prevent any additional loss of eyesight. If you already have vision loss, your doctor can counsel you about options for visual rehabilitation.

Prevention of Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy can be minimized with a combination of strict blood sugar control and routine screening with eye exams -- though even with optimal medical care, it is not always possible to prevent or slow retinal damage.

Studies have shown that maintaining near-normal blood sugar can decrease the chance of developing retinopathy and can help keep existing retinopathy from getting worse. Your doctor can provide guidelines that may include insulin and other medications, dietary modifications, and exercise. Intensive insulin therapy, which may include frequent blood sugar testing and the use of an insulin pump, may be an option. It's not always easy to stick to the disciplined lifestyle necessary to control blood sugar; don't hesitate to tell your doctor if you need extra support to adhere to his guidelines.

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