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Older Treatment may be More Effective in Preserving Sight for Some Patients with Diabetes

Date Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2008

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A promising new drug therapy used to treat abnormal swelling in the eye - a condition called diabetic macular edema - proved less effective than traditional laser treatments in a study funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The study, published online in July in the journal "Ophthalmology," demonstrates that laser therapy is not only more effective than corticosteroids in the long term treatment of diabetic macular edema, but also has far fewer side effects.

Between 40 and 45 percent of the 18 million Americans diagnosed with diabetes have vision problems, such as diabetic macular edema. This condition occurs when the center part of the eye's retina called the macula swells - possibly leading to blindness. Ophthalmologists traditionally use lasers to reduce the swelling in areas of the macula.

However, starting around five years ago, early reports of success in treating diabetic macular edema with injections of a corticosteroid called triamcinolone led to the rise in popularity of this alternative therapy.

This is said to be the first study to compare the long-term benefits of both treatments and evaluate their potential side effects. While triamcinolone was used in this study, there is no scientific rationale at this time that one corticosteroid preparation should be substantially different from another.

"Results of this study should confirm the use of laser treatment for diabetic macular edema and will have a significant impact on quality of life for tens of thousands of people being treated for diabetic macular edema in the United States each year," according to Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D., director of the NEI. Only diabetic macular edema was examined as part of this study. Macular edema from conditions other than diabetes may respond to corticosteroid treatment and laser treatment differently.

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