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Health Team

Study finds laser treatment better for diabetic eye problems

Posted September 22, 2008 5:57 p.m. EDT
Updated September 22, 2008 7:05 p.m. EDT

— Researchers at the University of North Carolina are comparing two treatments to determine which works better against the eye damage associated with diabetes.

Almost one-third of the 18 million Americans with diabetes will develop eye problems.

Virginia Taylor, 81, is diabetic. Three years ago, she had to give up driving because her vision was deteriorating. She had diabetic macular edema

"You see things like floaters and things like that and you know that's not normal," Taylor said.

Diabetic macular edema is treated in two ways.

The older treatment uses a laser to burn the blood vessels that leak substances onto the retina, UNC Ophthalmologist Mary Elizabeth Hartnett said.

In the past five years, steroid injections have also been used against the edema, Hartnett added.

UNC is studying the two treatments to determine which works better over the long term.

The steroid injection had better results a month after treatment, but that result was deceptive, Hartnett said.

"Within one year, there was no difference and, by two years, the laser was better," she found.

She said patients treated with steroids had more problems with cataracts and elevated pressure in the eye. The next clinical trial will look at the possible benefits of combining laser, steroid injection and other medication.

Taylor has tried both treatments. She'll stick with the laser in hopes the treatment will allow her to keep her vision and her active lifestyle.