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A Guide to Eye Injections for Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy affects the blood vessels in the retina and can, if left untreated, lead to vision loss. Patients who receive eye injections for diabetic retinopathy often experience reduced symptoms and the slowing of the condition’s progression.

These injections, which consist of medicines called anti-VEGF drugs, have been proven to slow down or even reverse some of the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy. The drugs work by blocking a certain protein that, when overproduced, causes abnormal blood vessel growth.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at what diabetic retinopathy is, what causes it, and how treating it with eye injections can prevent vision loss from worsening.

Causes of Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes can lead to numerous associated health complications, with blood vessel damage among the most common. Diabetic retinopathy is damage to the blood vessels that supply the retina, the delicate layer of tissue in the back of the eye that senses light.

Essentially, what happens is that due to this damage, blood and fluid build up and cause swelling in the center of the retina. As the condition progresses, the blood vessels close and deprive the retina of oxygen, leading to symptoms like blurred vision, blank or dark spots in the visual field, trouble identifying colors, and possibly, over time, even permanent vision loss.

Early-Stage Diabetic Retinopathy Treatment

Early detection is critical in successful diabetic retinopathy treatment. If you have diabetes, you already know the benefits of managing the condition by eating healthy, keeping physically active, and regularly taking your prescribed medicines. Doing this can also be beneficial in delaying or even preventing any loss of vision.

There are no early warning signs for diabetic retinopathy. It’s important to see your eye doctor regularly, perhaps as often as every couple of months. A comprehensive dilated eye exam will allow your doctor to spot any potential blood vessel damage.

Late-Stage Treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy

If the condition has progressed to where you experience changes in your vision, it’s critical that you begin treatment immediately. Medical attention will prevent your vision damage from getting worse.

The most effective treatments currently available to patients with diabetic retinopathy are eye injections, of which there are two types available:

Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) drugs – Anti-VEGF drugs inhibit the production of a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which causes the blood vessels to swell and leak into the retina. These drugs include ranibizumab (Lucentis), aflibercept (Eylea), and bevacizumab (Avastin).

Corticosteroid injections/implants – Steroids like triamcinolone (Kenalog), dexamethasone (Ozurdex), and fluocinolone acetonide (Iluvien) can decrease overall inflammation in the eye for a longer period of time than the anti-VEGF drugs.

What to Expect When Getting Eye Injections

When you receive your first diabetic retinopathy treatment injection, you can expect that before the procedure, the eye doctor will do a quick eye exam to re-confirm the diagnosis, and then will numb your eyes with anesthetic drops or gel. The doctor will then clean the eyes with an antiseptic solution in order to get rid of any bacteria and prevent infection. Finally, the injection will be given in the eye’s vitreous, which is the gel-like substance separating the lens from the retina.

The type of eye injections for diabetic retinopathy you receive, whether it’s anti-VEGF drugs or a corticosteroid, will determine how often you’ll have to come back for treatment. With anti-VEGF injections, it’s typical to have treatments every month in the beginning, while a steroid can last anywhere from several months to several years.

Treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy: Recent Advances

While the current eye injection treatments specifically target the late stages of the disease, some promising drugs are being tested that focus more on preventative measures.

Some of these potential advances include sustained-release drugs, integrin antagonists, Tie-2 inhibitors, and emerging therapies that deal with oxidative stress and epigenetic pathways.

If you’re ready to see if eye injections for diabetic retinopathy are the right treatment for you, contact us at Mid Atlantic Retina. We are staffed by internationally recognized, board-certified retinal physicians and surgeons who lead the way in innovative medical treatments.