NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Imagine being given a choice between losing your eyesight or having a monthly injection directly into your eye.
As CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported, that is the choice that thousands of diabetic patients face. But new medicine can dramatically reduce the shots and even prevent blindness.
Peter Lamia, who is diabetic, described a terrifying experience involving his eyesight.
“I woke up one morning and in front of my eyes, there was a splotch. The splotch was in my eye, like preventing me from seeing – actually in my way. And they call it a floater,” he said. “And it scared the heck out of me.”
The splotch was probably blood that had leaked into Lamia’s eye as a result of his type 2 diabetes. High blood sugar has a nasty effect on the tiny blood vessels of the eye.
“It can cause inflammation and damage the blood vessels so that they become leaky and can bleed,” said Dr. Daniel Kiernan of the Ophthalmic Consultants of Long Island. “And that can cause severe, serious vision loss that may require surgery to fix – or even be even blinding.”
First, Lamia had laser treatments to seal the leaky blood vessels. When that stopped working, the next step was a drug that had to be injected directly into the eye every month.
“They’re sticking needles in your eyes – it’s very scary proposition,” he said. “It’s a difficult process between the dilation and the injections themselves, and then not being able to see properly for hours on end on that day, and knowing that it’s going to happen again in two weeks.”
But now, there is a recently-approved tiny implant called Iluvien that releases a type of steroid that works differently.
“They affect more of the chemicals that affect diabetic eye disease, such as the swelling and bleeding,” said Dr. Daniel Kiernan of the Ophthalmic Consultants of Long Island.
It is still an injection. After the eye is thoroughly numbed, an applicator with a very fine needle inserts the grain-sized implant onto the eye.
But perhaps more importantly from the patient’s point of view, the implant lasts up to three years with no more monthly injections.
“I’m going to come in once a month to say hi. I’m not going to come in once a month to get a needle,” Lamia said.
So what about cost? The monthly injections cost between $1,000 and $2,000 each time. The Iluvien injection is a little under $9,000, but since it lasts up to three years, it actually saves a lot of money in the long run.
Either way, diabetics need to be closely followed by their eye doctors.