People with diabetes, a disease in which blood sugar levels become abnormal, are at risk of developing a condition known as diabetic retinopathy. This kind of retinopathy affects the blood vessels supplying the back of the eye, causing bleeding, overgrowth, scarring and possible loss of vision. Diabetic retinopathy surgery is used to prevent blood vessel overgrowth and stop bleeding. The most common type of diabetic retinopathy surgery is known as scatter laser treatment, where a laser is used to burn and shrink abnormal blood vessels.
In its early stages, diabetic retinopathy is described as non-proliferative, because the number of blood vessels does not increase. Small swellings occur in the vessels here and there, which may go on to burst and cause small areas of bleeding. Other blood vessels can become narrowed and blocked, and eventually this leads to a reduced blood supply to the retina.
The body responds by creating new blood vessels, which grow in an uncontrolled way and may cover the part of the retina responsible for clear vision, known as the macula. This stage is described as proliferative diabetic retinopathy. It carries risks of further bleeding from blood vessels, swelling of the macula, and scarring which could potentially detach the retina, causing sight loss.
As there may be no symptoms associated with diabetic retinopathy, it is most often diagnosed through regular eye tests. In the early stages, diabetic retinopathy surgery may not be required and the retinopathy progression may be halted by proper control of blood sugar levels. If proliferative retinopathy is detected, laser eye surgery may be necessary.
Diabetic retinopathy surgery using laser treatment can usually be carried out in one day, avoiding the need to spend a night in the hospital. Before the procedure, eye drops are used to widen the pupil and numb the eye. After covering the eye with a contact lens, a laser is aimed through the lens and the open pupil to target the vessels at the back of the eye. Scatter laser surgery involves making thousands of small burns in the retina, and may require more than one treatment session. This method of diabetic retinopathy surgery has the combined effect of shrinking any abnormal blood vessel growth, reducing the risk of bleeding and helping to prevent future detachment of the retina.
While diabetic retinopathy surgery can not restore sight once it has been lost, it can help prevent further loss of vision. Controlling blood sugar levels, regulating blood pressure and cholesterol, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, will also help to delay the progression of retinopathy and improve the outlook following eye surgery. Complications after diabetic retinopathy surgery are rare, but there may be a decrease in night and color vision, and some loss of sight from around the edges of the field of view.