How Retinopathy Is Treated

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Retinopathy is a condition of the retina, the layer of the eye that senses light. When the retina is damaged by disease, like diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure), retinopathy occurs. This can cause changes to vision and sometimes loss of sight that can’t be corrected. Retinopathy can also occur in premature or low birth weight newborns.

Treatment for retinopathy depends on the underlying cause. For diabetic, hypertensive, and age-related retinopathy, treatment often begins with lifestyle modifications and medications, but may progress to surgery. If you have retinopathy, you may not notice it at first, so treatment can be delayed.

Eye exam

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Home Remedies and Lifestyle

If you are at risk for retinopathy caused by diabetes or high blood pressure, lifestyle modifications can improve your symptoms and prognosis.

Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can lower blood pressure, help control blood sugar, and lower cholesterol. These are all factors that can contribute to retinopathy. Addressing these factors can help you avoid or manage retinopathy as a complication of diabetes or high blood pressure.

Diet and Exercise

While there is not a specific diet recommended for the prevention of retinopathy, one study did note that some diets were associated with a lower risk for diabetic retinopathy. These included high-fiber diets, ones that included oily fish, the Mediterranean diet, and a reduced-calorie diet.

Exercise can help reduce overall inflammation. One study found that muscle strengthening activities can lower inflammation in the body, which can decrease the severity of retinopathy.

However, any activity that causes increased blood pressure may need to be avoided to prevent further damage. Talk to your physician before beginning any exercise program.

Alcohol and Smoking

Smoking and drinking alcohol can impact your vision over time.

Quitting smoking and reducing or eliminating the amount of alcohol you consume can help manage your retinopathy and prevent further complications.

Following Treatment Plans for Other Conditions

Since diabetes and high blood pressure are the two major causes of retinopathy, it’s important to follow your physician’s treatment plan if you have either of these conditions. This may include monitoring your blood sugar, taking blood pressure medications, and having routine eye exams.

Prescriptions

If you’ve been diagnosed with retinopathy, your physician may prescribe one of the following medications. While these have been proven effective, they do have side effects which your physician will carefully weigh against the benefits.

Anti-VEGF Drugs

Anti-VEGF medications are used to slow the changes that occur to the blood vessels in and around the retina in retinopathy.

VEGF, or vascular endothelial growth factor, is a protein that helps blood vessels develop. This is an important protein in the body. However, when there is too much in the eye, it becomes harmful by creating new blood vessels in or near the retina that cause vision problems.

Anti-VEGF drugs work by stopping the VEGF protein from forming in the eye. They are injected directly into the eye periodically over a course of time.

Common anti-VEGF medications include:

  • Lucentis (ranibizumab)
  • Macugen (pegaptanib)
  • Eylea (aflibercept)

Avastin (bevacizumab) may also be used off-label as an anti-VEGF medication.

Steroids

Steroids can be a part of a treatment plan for retinopathy. Corticosteroids are injected directly into the eye to lower inflammation that may affect eyesight.

FDA-approved steroids for retinopathy include:

  • Ozurdex (dexamethasone intravitreal implant)
  • Iluvien (fluocinolone acetonide intravitreal implant)

Surgeries and Specialist-Driven Procedures

The most common treatment for retinopathy before anti-VEGF medications were developed was laser treatment. With advances in technology, laser treatment is still used frequently, sometimes along with anti-VEGF medications.

Laser Therapy

Laser therapy was developed in 1969 and has been successful in treating diabetic retinopathy. It works by shrinking the blood vessels in the eye that are causing vision problems.

A physician or ophthalmologist will numb the eye and aim a strong beam of light into the eye. The patient’s vision may be blurry for the rest of the day, but typically the results are positive.

Surgery

When retinopathy has advanced, especially in the case of diabetic retinopathy, surgery may be required. It may occur in conjunction with medication and laser treatments.

The most common surgery for retinopathy is a vitrectomy.

During a vitrectomy, a physician or ophthalmologist will make very small cuts in the eye to remove the vitreous fluid that is on top of the retina. They may then use a laser to repair the retina or replace the vitreous fluid with a clear fluid, like silicone oil.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Therapies

While more studies need to be done, there is some evidence that supplementation with certain vitamins and minerals can improve retinopathy.

These include:

Be sure to consult with a physician before beginning supplementation with any vitamins or minerals.

A Word From Verywell

Whether you have retinopathy or are at risk for retinopathy, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider about treatment and prevention. Having a condition like retinopathy may seem scary, especially if your vision is getting worse, but talking to a healthcare professional or eye specialist about your treatment options can bring a sense of relief.

If you live with any of the conditions that can cause retinopathy, making lifestyle changes and following your treatment plan for diabetes or high blood pressure can give you a sense of control over your health.

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12 Sources
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