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Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes is a very common disease in modern society, and is particularly common in Durban.

Unfortunately the eyes are often neglected, and only once visual loss is noted is specialist involvement requested. Diabetics must see an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) at least once a year.

Diabetic Retinopathy is a complication of diabetes and is caused by the deterioration of blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye. These damaged blood vessels may leak fluid or blood. When bleeding occurs in retinopathy, the patient has hazy vision or complete loss of sight. Though there is no symptom of pain, this severe form of diabetic retinopathy requires immediate medical attention.

The most significant treatment is laser photocoagulation. Even in advanced stages of the disease, it can reduce the chance that a patient will have severe visual loss. However, laser photocoagulation cannot be used on all patients, depending on the location, extent and if the vitreous is too clouded with blood.

Laser photocoagulation uses the heat from a laser to seal or destroy abnormal, leaking blood vessels in the retina. Laser photocoagulation is usually not painful. The injection of anesthetic may be uncomfortable. And then you may feel a slight stinging sensation or see brief flashes of light when the laser is applied to your eye. One of two approaches may be used when treating diabetic retinopathy:

Focal Photocoagulation

Focal treatment is used to seal specific leaking blood vessels in a small area of the retina, usually near the macula. The ophthalmologist identifies individual blood vessels for treatment and makes a limited number of laser burns to seal them off.

Scatter (Pan-Retinal) Photocoagulation

Scatter treatment is used to slow the growth of new abnormal blood vessels that have developed over a wide area of the retina. The ophthalmologist may make hundreds of laser burns on the retina to stop the blood vessels from growing. The person may need two or more treatment sessions.

What To Expect After Treatment

Laser photocoagulation is usually done as an outpatient procedure using a local or topical anesthetic that affects only the eye. You do not have to stay overnight in a hospital.

You will need someone to drive you home after the procedure. Eyedrops are used to widen (dilate) your pupils before the procedure. And your eyes will remain dilated for several hours afterward. Wear sunglasses to keep bright light out of your eyes while they are still dilated.

Your vision may be blurry and your eye may hurt a little for a day or two after the treatment.