Diabetic Retinopathy Definition, Symptoms, and Treatment Options
Almost 30 million people in the US deal with diabetes, one of the cruelest diseases that affect the entire organism.
Diabetes can impact the development of many other severe health conditions, especially if it’s not treated the way it should be. Namely, an unregulated blood sugar level can damage various organs, such as kidneys, pancreas, nerves, eyes, and, unfortunately, many others.
Speaking of the eye damage, one of the most common conditions caused by diabetes is diabetic retinopathy, which occurs when the retina, a light-sensitive layer of tissue of the eye, becomes affected by diabetes.
Although it’s about a degenerative eye condition, it can be treated in various ways. Apart from surgeries and lasers, which are among the most common methods for dealing with diabetic eye disease, there is another not so well-known procedure, which is acupuncture.
Due to the lack of reports and data, many people are unaware of the benefits of this therapy – therefore, this article will provide you with valuable information about the entire concept of diabetic retinopathy and the role of acupuncture in treating it.
What is Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy, also known as diabetic eye disease, is a degenerative eye condition that’s caused by diabetes. It occurs due to the damage of the blood vessels of the retina, a light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye.
People with both diabetes type 1 and 2 are prone to this condition, especially if their sugar blood is not well-controlled. This condition is usually symptomless in the beginning, but as soon as you notice slight vision problems, schedule an eye exam since diabetic retinopathy can lead to blindness.
What are the Common Causes and Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy?
An elevated level of sugar in your blood is the main cause of diabetic retinopathy. Namely, it may lead to the blockage of the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina, cutting off its blood supply in that way.
When something like that happens, the eye will try to grow new blood vessels, which won’t be able to develop properly – as a result, they can leak and cause further eye issues.
Like many other eye conditions, including macular degeneration and glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy symptoms are mostly unnoticeable.
However, as the condition develops, you may face some of the following signs:
- Floaters: You may notice spots or dark strings that float in your vision. They’re usually small and shadowy, and they move quickly as you move your eyes.
- Blurriness: Blurred vision is usually a sign that you might have an eye problem. Therefore, visit your eye practitioner as soon as you notice something like that.
- Fluctuation: Fluctuating vision manifests in frequent changes in the clarity of vision. This is usually associated with blurred vision that comes and goes, as well as with some other vision irregularities.
- Color vision deficiency: As the condition develops, you may face color blindness or difficulty to distinguish some shades of color, usually red and green.
- Dark or empty areas in your vision: Like floaters, dark or blank spaces in your vision occur as you move your eyes, preventing you from seeing the objects entirely and clearly.
- Vision loss: If not treated on time, retinopathy can lead to vision loss.
What are the Diabetic Retinopathy Stages?
There are two main types of diabetic retinopathy:
Non-Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (NPDR)
Non proliferative diabetic retinopathy is also known as the early stage of this particular condition, and it’s its most common form.
Being in the early stage of retinopathy means that new blood vessels aren’t growing (proliferating), but the walls of blood vessels in your retina start to weaken. Small bulges, also called microaneurysms, extend from the walls of the smaller vessels, leaking fluid and blood into the retina sometimes.
This type can progress to the advanced stage, which happens when a larger amount of blood vessels becomes blocked. In that stage, nerve fibers in the retina may begin to swell, including the macula, which can lead to a severe condition (macular edema) that requires additional treatment.
Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (PDR)
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy implies the advanced stage of retinopathy, where damaged blood vessels close off, causing the development of new, abnormal vessels in the retina.
The growth of new blood vessels can stimulate the scar tissue, which later causes the retina to detach from the back of your eye. If the new vessels interfere with the normal flow of fluid out of the eye, the pressure may accumulate in the eyeball, leading to glaucoma.
Both stages of the diabetic eye can cause other severe eye conditions, which require additional treatments. Therefore, it’s essential to manage your diabetes carefully, especially during pregnancy, when you’re more prone to such issues.
Here are some of the complications that can arise if you don’t treat diabetic eye problems on time:
- Vitreous hemorrhage: If vitreous, a jelly-like substance that fills the center of your eye is affected by the growth of new blood vessels, your vision may become endangered. Depending on the amount of bleeding, you may have smaller or bigger difficulties, but you should know that vitreous hemorrhage doesn’t cause blindness by itself.
- The detachment of the retina: The growth of abnormal blood vessels impacts the growth of scar tissue, which can cause the retina to detach from the back of the eye. Such detachment is usually the reason why the spots and flashes of light float in your sight, and it often leads to vision loss.
- Glaucoma: As mentioned earlier, the untreated advanced retinopathy stage can lead to the accumulated eye pressure that can damage the optic nerve responsible for carrying the image from your eye to your brain. Such a condition is known as glaucoma.
- Severe blindness: Diabetic retinopathy, along with all the complications that arise due to its presence, can eventually lead to severe blindness.
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What are the Most Common Risk Factors for Diabetic Retinopathy?
Anyone with diabetes, regardless of its type, is prone to retinopathy. According to recent studies, more than 45% of the American population diagnosed with diabetes have a certain degree of a diabetic eye.
If you fall under some of the following categories, you should have regular eye exams that would indicate any eye changes that could lead to diabetic retinopathy:
- You have diabetes for a long time: The longer you have diabetes, the higher your risk of getting diabetic retinopathy. As time passes, the influence of diabetes on your organs increases, which is why it causes severe conditions, not only to the eyes but also to the legs, heart, and kidneys.
- You don’t control your blood sugar level: It’s essential to monitor your blood sugar level and record it several times a day. An unregulated level of blood sugar can lead to severe consequences that can hardly be reversed, especially if the glucose levels are consistently high.
- You have high blood pressure: It’s also vital to manage your blood pressure since it can trigger many eye conditions, especially glaucoma. Make sure you take your regular medications and maintain the pressure within the normal range.
- You have high cholesterol: High cholesterol can limit blood flow and impact the creation of fatty deposits in your blood vessels. Such vessels can grow eventually, which makes it difficult for blood to flow through your arteries. Therefore, it can be dangerous for your eye health.
- You’re pregnant: The chances for getting retinopathy are increased during the pregnancy, which is why all the women with diabetes are advised to have additional eye exams during that period.
- You’re a smoker: It’s considered that smoking can increase the risk of diabetic retinopathy, as well as the progression of many other conditions.
How is Diabetic Retinopathy Diagnosed?
Regular eye exams are crucial for identifying the early signs of diabetic retinopathy, and your eye doctor can perform the exam using some of the following methods:
- Pupil dilation: Ophthalmologists perform pupil dilation in order to check for any changes in your eye’s blood vessels and see whether the new ones have grown. Additionally, they can see if your retina is detached or swollen.
- Fluorescein angiogram: This test can indicate whether you have some of the conditions by showing if your blood vessels are leaking or damaged. The doctor will give you a shot with fluorescent dye into your arm vein; as soon as the color reaches your eyes, your doctor will be able to see the images of the blood vessels in your retina and identify any severe problems.
Once diagnosed, the diabetic eye must be classified with a certain code, which identifies the stage of this condition, and describes the complications that may have arisen together with the disease.
Diabetic retinopathy ICD 10 is the code used for determining all the details about this eye condition. Type 1 diabetes falls under the category of ICD-10 E10 codes, which describe the four grades of non-proliferative retinopathy (unspecified, mild, moderate, and severe), as well as the proliferative stage.
As for type 2 diabetes, it’s identified with ICD-10 E11 coding, and its categories are the same as those included in type 1. Also, both coding aspects indicate whether the patient has macular edema or not.
The exact code for patients’ condition must be stated by a physician, who must determine the cause and relationship between retinopathy and diabetes.
These codes are vital because they can provide appropriate reimbursements for patients who suffer from eye conditions caused by diabetes. The diagnostic, procedure, and therapeutic codes will be added to insurance policies and billing claims, and they must match all the services provided to get reimbursement.
What are the Best Diabetic Retinopathy Treatment Options?
The answer to the question Can diabetic retinopathy be reversed? doesn’t usually provide much hope.
According to ophthalmologists, there is no cure for diabetic retinopathy. However, if discovered on time, the chances for successful treatment, prevention, reduction, and delay of vision loss are significantly higher.
Another factor that’s crucial for preventing a complete vision loss is the regular control of your blood sugar. By maintaining healthy glucose levels, you may keep the retinopathy from getting worse and keep your eyes healthy.
The options for diabetic retinopathy treatment are diverse, and some of them, such as acupuncture, can even help reverse the disease. Let’s see how:
Acupuncture for Diabetic Retinopathy
The specific field of acupuncture, Micro Acupuncture 48, is a relatively new acupuncture approach aimed at treating eye conditions.
It includes 48 acupoints located only in the hands and feet, and so far, it has shown remarkable outcomes in treating the most common eye diseases, such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, Usher’s syndrome, diabetic retinopathy, and many others.
The efficiency of acupuncture lies in its approach, which is not aimed at treating the eye itself. Instead, acupuncture tends to heal a person’s mental and physical condition, impact the flow of blood, and encourage the awakening of the energy. That way, overall health can be improved.
Micro Acupuncture for diabetic retinopathy is focused on increasing the blood flow to the eyes, reducing inflammation, controlling ocular oxidative stress, and enhancing detoxification of solid and liquid waste that accumulates in the eye. This treatment also helps your body build its own stem cell activity by up to 300%, which is vital for photoreceptor nerve and vascular regeneration.
The results of this therapy are individual, and they depend on the stage of the disease and patient’s persistence. It may pass several weeks to several months until you notice significant improvements and recovery of the vision loss – the total amount of treatments is based on how advanced the conditions are and how long the condition has existed.
The measurable clinical results have proven that 85% of patients have responded positively to treatments so far.
How is the Acupuncture Treatment Performed?
Acupuncturist will ask you to do your vision testing at your local eye doctor at least two weeks before the treatment so that he/she can have the insight into your condition.
After reviewing your vision testing, which includes central acuity near and far, visual field, color vision, and contrast, your acupuncturist will be able to establish a baseline and determine the adequate amount of treatments that will bring significant improvements.
Diabetic retinopathy acupuncture treatment includes a gentle insertion of small, thin, and stainless-steel needles into the hands, feet, and forehead. Each session lasts 25-30 minutes approximately, and some intensive series can include two 30-minute sessions a day.
As soon as the positive changes are visible, the sessions will continue until the patient is satisfied or until there’s a chance for further improvements.
However, you shouldn’t neglect your disease as soon as you see the results. All degenerative eye conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy, require ongoing maintenance to prevent potential aggravation. Typical treatments include acupuncture sessions twice a year, but that also depends on patients and their results.
Patients with diabetic retinopathy must continue with their regular medication and regulation of their blood sugar in order to get long-term, positive results.
Natural Supplements and Herbs for Diabetic Retinopathy
Acupuncture treatments will bring better results if you combine them with natural supplements and herbs rich in minerals and vitamins.
At the end of the program, your practitioner may recommend a particular diet, supplements, and ideas of a healthy lifestyle beneficial for nourishing your eyes and maintaining a healthy vision. Some of the best antioxidants for eye protection are Vitamin A, C, and E, Zinc, Selenium, Lutein, as well as fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens.
Your diet should consist of clean, organic food, and a lot of water. Water is an excellent antioxidant which prevents dehydration, one of the leading causes of inflammations and oxidative stress. You’re advised to drink a large glass of water early in the morning and between meals.
Besides, a healthy diet is key to regulated sugar blood, and it’s vital for patients who have diabetes. That said, you should include fatty fish, avocado, and nuts to your meals, mostly because they’re rich in healthy fats and Omega-3 fatty acids, critical for both eyes and overall health.
Laser Treatment (Photocoagulation)
Laser treatments are among the most common options of treatment for diabetic retinopathy, and they can prevent vision loss if they’re performed before the retina has been entirely damaged.
Such treatments are more useful for non-proliferative diabetic eye, but they can also provide positive results in dealing with the more advanced stage of the disease. However, more severe types may require a more aggressive laser therapy called scatter photocoagulation, which allows your doctor to limit the growth of blood vessels in your retina.
Surgical Removal of the Vitreous Gel (Vitrectomy)
This procedure is effective only if the retina hasn’t been completely damaged. Your doctor will recommend it to you in case there’s bleeding (vitreous hemorrhage) or retinal detachment, which is more common in advanced stages.
Vitrectomy can also be performed if the scar tissue has formed, as well as in the case of macular edema.
Anti-VEGF (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor)/ Anti-Inflammatory Medicine
Anti-inflammatory medicines are essential for slowing the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the retina, caused by a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF).
The injections of this type impact the shrinking of new blood vessels that arise in proliferative diabetic retinopathy, and taking an anti-VEGF medicine can be quite suitable for treating the macula affected by macular edema.
Additionally, steroids can be injected into your eye, and sometimes they come in the form of an implant, such as Iluvien, which is placed in the eye. Once set, it releases a small number of corticosteroids over time.
Don’t Neglect Your Eye Conditions, Book Your Appointment at Makari Wellness
Your vision may be the greatest gift you have, which is why you shouldn’t neglect any changes that affect its health.
Makari Wellness has been treating the most severe degenerative eye conditions with success for more than 15 years, using contemporary methods based on techniques of both Eastern and Western medicine. We are proud of the fact that nearly 85% of patients have responded positively to our acupuncture therapies, and we hope that that percentage increases over time.