Carolina Macula & Retina                                              John Gross, MD
                                                                                   
Diabetic Retinopathy

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic Retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that affects the eyes. It's caused by damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye (retina).

At first, diabetic retinopathy may cause no symptoms or only mild vision problems. Eventually, however, diabetic retinopathy can result in blindness.

Diabetic retinopathy can develop in anyone who has type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes. The longer you have diabetes, and the less controlled your blood sugar is, the more likely you are to develop diabetic retinopathy.

To protect your vision, take prevention seriously. Start by carefully controlling your blood sugar level and scheduling yearly eye exams.

It's possible to have diabetic retinopathy and not know it. In fact, it's uncommon to have symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy.

As the condition progresses, diabetic retinopathy symptoms may include:

  • Spots or dark strings floating in your vision (floaters)
  • Blurred vision
  • Fluctuating vision
  • Dark or empty areas in your vision
  • Vision loss
  • Difficulty with color perception

Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes.

Diabetic retinopathy may be classified as early or advanced, depending on your signs and symptoms.

Early diabetic retinopathy
If you have nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, you may not need treatment right away. However, your eye doctor will closely monitor your eyes to determine if you need treatment.

It may also be helpful to work with your diabetes doctor (endocrinologist) to find out if there are any additional steps you can take to improve your diabetes management. The good news is that when diabetic retinopathy is in the mild or moderate stage, good blood sugar control can usually slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy.

Advanced diabetic retinopathy
If you have proliferative diabetic retinopathy, you'll need prompt surgical treatment. Sometimes surgery is also recommended for severe nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy. Depending on the specific problems with your retina, options may include:

Treatment depends largely on the type of diabetic retinopathy you have. Your treatment will also be affected by how severe your retinopathy is, and how it has responded to previous treatments.

Surgery often slows or stops the progression of diabetic retinopathy, but it's not a cure. Because diabetes is a lifelong condition, future retinal damage and vision loss are possible. Even after treatment for diabetic retinopathy, you'll need regular eye exams. At some point, additional treatment may be recommended.

Researchers are studying new treatments for diabetic retinopathy, including medications that may help prevent abnormal blood vessels from forming in the eye. Some of these medications are injected directly into the eye to treat existing swelling or abnormal blood vessels. These treatments appear promising, but they haven't been studied in long-term trials yet.

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Non- proliferative