What are the Benefits of Retinopathy Screening?

C. K. Lanz

The primary benefit of retinopathy screening is the opportunity to diagnose and begin treating the condition immediately before it worsens. Screening is crucial because, in many cases, there are no symptoms until the very late stages of the condition. There is no cure for diabetic retinopathy, but the condition can be stabilized with treatment. Retinopathy of prematurity rarely results in lasting visual problems if detected at birth. If left untreated, however, both forms of retinopathy can cause vision problems and eventual blindness.

Laser therapy may be prescribed following a retinopathy screening.
Laser therapy may be prescribed following a retinopathy screening.

Retinopathy of prematurity is caused by abnormal retinal blood vessel development in premature infants. A child who is born prematurely may experience a disruption of normal eye development that results in bleeding in the eye. A retinal exam screens for this condition in children who are born before reaching 30 weeks of gestation.

During an indirect ophthalmoscopy, a patient’s eyes are usually dilated by using eye drops.
During an indirect ophthalmoscopy, a patient’s eyes are usually dilated by using eye drops.

If detected by retinopathy screening, the condition in premature infants is often treated by freezing or laser therapy. Surgery may be necessary if the infant’s retina detaches completely. Blood vessel growth can also be stimulated by providing the infant with excess oxygen. With retinopathy screening and treatment, only 10 percent of premature infants with this condition will suffer any permanent vision problems.

People with diabetes should undergo retinopathy screening on a regular basis because the condition typically does not present any symptoms until the very advanced stages. In later stages, symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include blurred vision, dark areas in the field of vision, and impaired night and color vision. Early detection of diabetic retinopathy can help prevent serious complications, including blindness and glaucoma.

The most common screening technique is ophthalmoscopy, or an examination of the retina. Ophthalmoscopy allows a doctor to examine the back of the eye via a light source and magnifying instrument. A dilated eye exam, retinal photography test, or optical coherence tomography exam may also be ordered. During a retinopathy screening, the doctor is looking for abnormal blood vessels, bleeding in the eye, and retinal detachment.

Treatments of advanced diabetic retinopathy include laser treatment, vitrectomy, and ocular injections of medication that reduces existing swelling. Focal and scatter laser treatments are used to shrink abnormal blood vessels and stop blood leakage in the eye. Vitrectomy is a surgical procedure in which blood and scar tissue are removed from the eye. Various medications can also be injected directly into the eye.

Early detection and treatment of diabetic retinopathy via regular screening is crucial because there is no cure. Treatment in conjunction with good blood sugar control can stabilize the condition and slow its progress. A patient with diabetic retinopathy will need routine eye exams to monitor the state of his or her vision.

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