What is diabetic retinopathy?
Retinopathy is a condition of the retina, which is the nerve layer that lines the back of your eye. It is also the part of your eye that “takes pictures” and sends the images to your brain. Many people with diabetes have retinopathy. This kind of retinopathy is called diabetic retinopathy (retinal disease caused by diabetes). Diabetic retinopathy can result in poor vision and even blindness. Most of the time, it gets worse over many years. At first, the blood vessels in the eye get weak. This can cause blood and other liquid leaking into the retina from the blood vessels, called non-proliferative retinopathy. And this is the most common retinopathy. If the fluid leaks into the center of your eye, you may have blurry vision. Unfortunately, most people with non-proliferative retinopathy have no symptoms.
How common is diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of vision-loss globally. Of an estimated 285 million people with diabetes mellitus worldwide, approximately one third have signs of diabetic retinopathy and of these, a further one third of DR is vision-threatening diabetic retinopathy.
Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?
It is thought that there is no symptom during the early stages of this condition. The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy often don’t manifest until major damage occurs inside of the eye. You can avoid unseen damage by keeping your blood sugar levels under good control and getting regular eye exams to monitor your eye health.
When the symptoms do appear, they’re most commonly seen in both eyes and can include:
- Seeing floaters or dark spots
- Difficulty seeing at night
- Blurred vision
- A loss of vision
- Difficulty distinguishing colors
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes diabetic retinopathy?
Day by day, too much sugar in your blood can cause the blockage of the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina, cutting off its blood supply. Consequently, the eye attempts to grow new blood vessels. But these new blood vessels don’t develop properly and can leak easily. There are two primary types of diabetic retinopathy:
Early diabetic retinopathy
In this more common form — called non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) — new blood vessels aren’t growing (proliferating).
Nerve fibers in the retina may begin to swell. Sometimes the central part of the retina (macula) begins to swell (macular edema), a condition that requires treatment.
Advanced diabetic retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy can progress to this more severe type, known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy. In this type, damaged blood vessels close off, causing the growth of new, abnormal blood vessels in the retina, and can leak into the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the center of your eye (vitreous). Eventually, scar tissue stimulated by the growth of new blood vessels may cause the retina to detach from the back of your eye. If the new blood vessels interfere with the normal flow of fluid out of the eye, pressure may build up in the eyeball. This can damage the nerve that carries images from your eye to your brain (optic nerve), resulting in glaucoma.
What increases my risk for diabetic retinopathy?
There are many risk factors for diabetic retinopathy, such as:
- Duration of diabetes — the longer you have diabetes, the greater your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy
- Poor control of your blood sugar level
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Tobacco use
- Being black, Hispanic or Native American
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is diabetic retinopathy diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects you may experience this condition, a dilated eye exam will be performed. This involves the use of eye drops that make the pupils open wide, allowing you doctor to get a good look at the inside of your eye. Your doctor will check for:
- Abnormal blood vessels
- Leaking of the blood vessels
- Blocked blood vessels
- Changes to the lens
- Damage to the nerve tissue
- Retinal detachment
They may also perform a fluorescein angiography test. During this test, your doctor will inject a dye into your arm, allowing them to track how the blood flows in your eye. They’ll take pictures of the dye circulating inside of your eye to determine which vessels are blocked, leaking, or broken.
An optical coherence tomography (OCT) exam is an imaging test that uses light waves to produce images of the retina. These images allow your doctor to determine your retina’s thickness. OCT exams help determine how much fluid, if any, has accumulated in the retina.
How is diabetic retinopathy treated?
Early diabetic retinopathy
If you have mild or moderate non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, you may not need treatment right away. However, your eye doctor will closely monitor your eyes to determine when you might need treatment.
Advanced diabetic retinopathy
If you have proliferative diabetic retinopathy or macular edema, you’ll need prompt surgical treatment. Based on the specific problems with your retina, options may include:
- Focal laser treatment
This laser treatment, also known as photocoagulation, can stop or slow the leakage of blood and fluid in the eye. During the procedure, leaks from abnormal blood vessels are treated with laser burns.
- Scatter laser treatment
This laser treatment, also known as panretinal photocoagulation, can shrink the abnormal blood vessels. During the procedure, the areas of the retina away from the macula are treated with scattered laser burns. The burns cause the abnormal new blood vessels to shrink and scar.
This procedure uses a tiny incision in your eye to remove blood from the middle of the eye (vitreous) as well as scar tissue that’s tugging on the retina. It’s done in a surgery center or hospital using local or general anesthesia.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage diabetic retinopathy?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with diabetic retinopathy:
- Quit smoking if you smoke.
- Get regular, moderate exercise several times per week. If you have retinopathy, check with your healthcare team to determine the best exercises for you.
- Get annual eye exams.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Diabetic retinopathy. http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/tc/diabetic-retinopathy-topic-overview#1 . Accessed December 28, 2016.
Diabetic retinopathy . http://www.healthline.com/health/type-2-diabetes/retinopathy#Types2 . Accessed December 28, 2016.
Diabetic retinopathy . http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetic-retinopathy/basics/treatment/con-20023311 . Accessed December 28, 2016.
Review Date: August 15, 2017 | Last Modified: September 13, 2019