- Diabetes can lead to vision complications, such as diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema.
- Anti-VEGF injections can help protect your vision and may even improve your sight.
- The procedures are considered safe and generally don’t cause pain.
Eye injections are one of the most common treatments for people who have vision complications related to diabetes, such as diabetic macular edema (DME) and advanced cases of diabetic retinopathy.
Both conditions can lead to vision loss and blindness if left unmanaged.
Getting a needle in the eye may not sound too appealing, but it can help protect your vision and prevent the condition from worsening. Fortunately, the procedure is quick and not too painful.
If your doctor has recommended eye injections for diabetes complications to your vision, it can be helpful to learn more about the treatment and the types of injections offered.
Read on to find out the benefits of eye injections and what to expect from the treatment.
Many doctors use eye injections to treat vision complications in people with diabetes. Some vision complications can result from having high levels of blood sugar for a long time.
Eventually, high blood sugar can cause damage to the small blood vessels in the eye. Those vessels may start leaking blood and other fluids into a part of the eye called the retina, resulting in a complication called diabetic retinopathy.
About half of people who have diabetic retinopathy eventually get DME, according to the National Eye Institute.
This condition occurs when the retina can no longer absorb the excess fluid from leaky blood vessels. As a result, a part of the retina called the macula thickens and swells.
In diabetic eye disease, a protein known as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) can become overactive. This causes new, abnormal blood vessels to grow — which, in turn, leads to more leakage.
Some eye injections for diabetes contain medicines that block VEGF and reduce swelling in the macula. This can help slow the progression of DME and offers slight vision improvements in some people.
There are two main types of eye injections for diabetes: anti-VEGF drugs and corticosteroids.
Injections of anti-VEGF medications block the protein that can stimulate the growth of abnormal blood vessels. This helps prevent excess fluid from leaking into the retina and potentially improves your eyesight.
Anti-VEGF medicines include:
- aflibercept (Eylea)
- bevacizumab (Avastin)
- ranibizumab (Lucentis)
Most people with DME need several anti-VEGF injections over the course of a few months at first. Over time, you may be able to get them less frequently or potentially stop treatment, depending on your condition and symptoms.
However, some people will need to keep getting anti-VEGF injections throughout their lives to protect their vision.
Corticosteroids are another medication used in eye injections for diabetes. These drugs reduce swelling in the macula, which can help give you clearer vision.
Like anti-VEGF drugs, corticosteroids may be injected directly into the eye. They can also be given in the form of:
- eye drops
- an implant that can release small doses of the medication over a period of time
While eye injections for diabetes might sound intimidating, the process may not be as uncomfortable as you think, especially when you realize the needle part is over in a matter of seconds.
An eye care professional usually performs the procedure in office, so there’s no hospital stay or general anesthesia needed. Still, it’s best to arrange for someone to drive you home, as your vision can be blurry after the injection.
Here’s what to expect:
- A healthcare professional cleans the skin around your eyes, usually with an antibacterial solution of povidone-iodine.
- They then attach small clips called eye speculums to your eyes in order to keep them open during the injection.
- Next, they numb your eyes using an anesthetic drop or gel. In some cases, your doctor might use a small needle near the eye to administer the anesthetic.
- A very thin, short needle is inserted into the eye to dispense the medication. You shouldn’t feel pain, but you might feel a slight pressure. This part only takes a few seconds.
- The eye clips are removed.
- Your eye and surrounding area are cleaned.
The whole process should take between 15 and 30 minutes.
You may have a little eye irritation for a few hours afterward. Some people notice a tiny spot of blood at the injection site. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotic eyedrops to prevent infection.
Your vision may not improve right away, but you’ll probably be able to resume your usual activities quickly. Be sure to return to the doctor’s office for your follow-up appointments.
If you feel concerned about eye injections for diabetes, talk with your doctor. They can offer information and tips to help put you at ease.
You can also practice relaxation techniques, like deep breathing, to help stay calm before the procedure.
Anti-VEGF injections are considered to be safe, effective treatment for DME. However, you may experience some temporary side effects, such as:
- irritation or discomfort
- watery, dry, or itchy eyes
- feeling like there’s something in your eye
- increased pressure in the eye
Serious complications from anti-VEGF injections are rare, but can include:
- vitreous hemorrhage (bleeding into the back of the eye)
- retinal detachment (when the retina is pulled away from the back of the eye)
Let your doctor know if you’ve had or are at high risk of blood clots, heart attack, or stroke. These conditions can increase the risk of serious side effects.
Like anti-VEGF injections, corticosteroid injections are also considered safe. Side effects are generally mild and may include:
- eye pain
- eye pressure
Keep in mind that corticosteroids may increase the risk of developing glaucoma or cataracts. Talk with your doctor to see if the potential benefits outweigh the risks.
Many people respond well to anti-VEGF injections. A
A 2018 review of 24 studies found that anti-VEGF drugs helped prevent vision loss and improved eyesight for people with DME. The research also showed that people treated with aflibercept tended to have slightly better results after 1 year than those treated with ranibizumab and bevacizumab.
Managing your diabetes can also help improve your outlook if you have DME. Tips for managing your diabetes include:
- taking medications as prescribed
- testing your blood sugar regularly
- exercising 30 minutes per day
- having a nutritious diet
- quitting smoking, if you smoke
DME and other complications from diabetes can lead to blindness. Fortunately, treatments like anti-VEGF injections can help prevent vision loss and may even protect your eyesight.
As scary as it might sound, the procedure is usually quick, painless, and safe for most people.
Talk with your doctor to learn more about the potential risks and benefits of eye injections for diabetes to see if the treatment is right for you.