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PRP Laser Therapy: What to Expect

PRP Laser Therapy: What to Expect

Most people in today’s society associate PRP with platelet-rich plasma therapy, a process that’s used for everything from vampire facials to healing orthopedic injuries faster. However, in the eye care field, it stands for panretinal photocoagulation laser therapy, an innovative treatment for diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of vision loss.

At Retina Specialists, our expert team of retinal ophthalmologists understands how diabetes can damage your eye health. That’s why we offer PRP laser therapy for our diabetic patients, to help prevent vision loss from diabetic retinopathy, a condition that damages the blood vessels in the eye.

The problem of diabetic retinopathy

Diabetes is a disease that prevents the conversion of glucose (sugar) into usable energy within the body’s cells. Instead, blood glucose levels remain high, causing a variety of health problems, including damaging your eyes.

The vast majority of cases in the United States (about 90%) are what’s known as Type 2 diabetes, where the body’s cells become resistant to insulin, the hormone that converts glucose into energy. It’s overwhelmingly caused by a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle, making it the most preventable form of the disease.

Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition that affects one in three American adults over 40 who have diabetes, and it’s a leading cause of blindness. It develops in two stages.

Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy

The first stage is nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy. Blood vessels that serve the retina, the light-sensing tissue at the back of the eye, weaken from the high sugar levels; they leak blood into the retina, causing it to swell. If the macula (the central 2% of the retina, which registers your clear, central vision) swells, it’s called macular edema.

This early stage of retinopathy typically leads to blurry vision. If it’s not treated, and you don’t control the underlying diabetes, it can progress to the second stage, proliferative diabetic retinopathy.

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy

In the second stage, old blood vessels seal themselves off, preventing oxygen and nutrients from reaching the retina. In addition, new vessels begin to grow (proliferate) on the retina’s surface. These new vessels are abnormal and extremely delicate, often leaking blood into the fluid-filled space around the retina.

Small amounts of leakage produce only minor symptoms, such as visual floaters, but significant leakage can lead to loss of sight. The blood vessels may also trigger scar tissue growth, leading to macula edema or a possible detached retina.

What is PRP laser therapy?

PRP laser therapy uses a focused light beam to prevent abnormal blood vessels from growing on the retina. It also encourages existing ones to shrink and scar over, making them less likely to bleed or cause abnormally high pressure within the eye that might detach the retina.

At Retina Specialists, we use two types of coagulation:

1. Focal coagulation

In this procedure, the laser targets abnormal blood vessels in your eyes and heats them up, causing them to drain, seal, and disappear.

2. Scatter coagulation

Scatter photocoagulation targets a wider area of the retina than focal coagulation does. It creates numerous tiny burns that slow or stop the growth of abnormal blood vessels.

The PRP laser therapy procedure

At Retina Specialists, we find that most patients need a series of PRP laser treatments to achieve optimal results. 

When you come in for the procedure, your ophthalmologist uses drops that dilate the pupils, allowing him to see from the front of the eyeball all the way back to the retina. Be aware that these drops can distort your vision for up to six hours, so you’ll need someone to drive you. Each appointment takes 2-4 hours.

The doctor also uses drops to numb your eyes and places eyelid holders to keep your eyes open during the procedure.

After studying the retina, the doctor positions the laser equipment in front of your eyes. Treatment takes 15-30 minutes, and there’s no pain. At most, you may notice some flashing lights during the treatment.

Once the treatment is complete, you’re free to go home, but take it easy for a couple of days to allow the eyes to heal. They may be slightly swollen, but that should subside relatively quickly. You should be able to return to your daily routine within a couple of days. 

We highly recommend that you continue to get regular diabetic eye exams so your doctor can monitor your eye health and provide treatment as needed.

If you have diabetes, especially if it’s uncontrolled, your eyes are at risk for retinopathy; PRP laser therapy can help. To learn more, or to schedule a consultation with one of our ophthalmologists, call Retina Specialists at any of our Dallas, Texas, area locations today.

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