Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the leading causes of vision loss worldwide and it occurs in people with diabetes.

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Diabetes can affect vision in a condition called diabetic retinopathy which usually affects both eyes. Approximately 1 out of 3 people with diabetes develops diabetic retinopathy. An excess of glucose can cause damage to the very small blood vessels in the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye, known as the retina. This can lead to all sorts of changes in the eyes varying from unnoticeable symptoms to blindness. There are different stages of this disease and the earliest one is the most common and causes the least damage to your vision. 

If you have diabetes, it is highly recommended that you get a yearly eye exam that includes pupil dilation, even if you don't have any complaints or concerns with your vision. It's important to note that pregnancy can cause diabetic retinopathy to worsen so if you're pregnant, your doctor may recommend more frequent eye exams. 

If you have diabetes and you experience blurriness or sudden vision changes, please contact us right away to schedule an appointment with your eye doctor. Keep in mind that diabetes does not necessarily cause vision loss. Proper health management can prevent complications so don't hesitate to reach out to your eye doctor for guidance.

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In the early stages of this condition, it's very possible not to have any symptoms. As diabetic retinopathy progresses, possible symptoms could include:

  • blurred vision
  • spots or lines floating in your visual field
  • decrease in color vision
  • blind spots
  • vision loss

If you notice these symptoms or experience changes in your vision and find it difficult for you to perform your daily activities, please schedule a comprehensive eye exam with your eye doctor.

Risk factors

Risk factors

Anyone with type 1 or type 2 diabetes can get diabetic retinopathy, however there are certain factors which increase the risk of developing this disease. The longer a person has diabetes, the more at risk they become for diabetic retinopathy. Also, the less a person's blood sugar is under control, the higher the chance is that their diabetes will affect their eyes through diabetic retinopathy.

Other risk factors include:

  • Race - Hispanics and African Americans are at greater risk 
  • Medical conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking


Diabetic retinopathy is not always preventable, but there are certain proactive measures that could be taken to lower your chance of developing this condition. It's advisable to take your prescribed medication for diabetes and to do what you can to maintain good control of your blood sugar and blood pressure. In addition, regular eye exams and early detection of changes due to this condition can really help prevent serious loss of vision.

Try to be aware of any changes in your vision and please contact us right away if you notice any sudden differences such as spotty or blurry vision. 

It is strongly recommended to quit smoking in order to prevent damage to your vision due to diabetic retinopathy. Your eye doctor can guide you with different available methods to help you stop smoking.

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There are different stages of diabetic retinopathy and the treatment depends on the level that this disease has affected the retina. The purpose of any treatment is to slow down or stop the progression of diabetic retinopathy. There are two main categories of this condition. There's the early phase called nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NDPR) which is less severe and most people do not require treatment at this point because there usually aren't any vision changes. It’s extremely important to consult your eye doctor to find out if treatment can help you and also in order to be monitored for any progression of the disease.

In the NDPR phase the blood vessels in the retina are weak and there could be miniscule disturbances in the blood referred to medically as microaneurysms which can lead to swelling of the macula. The macula is the part of the retina that is responsible for central vision so this swelling, known as diabetic macular edema, can cause disturbances in the central vision. There is a laser procedure available to treat diabetic macular edema called laser photocoagulation.

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Common Questions

Diabetic retinopathy is a progressive condition with different phases. In the early stages, symptoms are either mild or non-existent. There are some people who notice subtle differences in their vision which may come and go. In the later stages, there is significant damage to the retina which is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. This could lead to much more noticeable visual changes. For example, a person may notice dark floating spots or streaks in their vision. Sometimes these visual disturbances go away on their own but it's extremely important to see your eye doctor for treatment. Whether or not you notice symptoms, if you have diabetes, it is essential to go for an annual eye exam with pupil dilation in order to be monitored for diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetic retinopathy causes various changes in the eyes and thus could lead to different eye conditions. This disease can cause the blood vessels in the retina to leak which leads to swelling in the macula. The macula is part of the retina and is responsible for central vision. This inflammation is called diabetic macular edema and can cause blurry central vision. Another condition which can result from diabetic retinopathy is called neovascular glaucoma. This occurs when fragile harmful blood vessels begin to form due to diabetic retinopathy. These abnormal blood vessels prevent fluid from properly draining out of the eye, thus increasing the eye pressure and leading to this type of glaucoma. The damage from diabetic retinopathy can cause scars in the back of the eye. These scars can pull on the retina, separating it from the back of the eye. This is called retinal detachment. Diabetic retinopathy can cause different kinds of changes in your eyes and therefore it's extremely important to be monitored by an eye doctor to prevent any further damage.
It is estimated that 4% of adults over the age of 45 have permanent vision loss due to diabetic retinopathy. Scientific literature suggests that approximately 700,000 Americans have proliferative diabetic retinopathy, with an annual incidence of new cases estimated at 65,000. Furthermore an additional 500,000 persons have clinically significant macular edema, with an annual incidence of new cases estimated at 75,000. Proliferative diabetic retinopathy is the fourth and final stage of diabetes retinopathy. This stage of the disease has progressed significantly and is endangering one's vision. Due to the damage to the eye’s normal blood vessels, there is poor circulation inside the eye. The retina then grows new blood vessels, however, they are abnormal and can cause severe damage possibly resulting in vision loss and potentially blindness. At this stage, patients require immediate referral to a retina specialist for further examination and treatment. If you have diabetes it is crucial to follow your eye doctor's guidance, and visit for a diabetic eye exam at least twice a year. During a diabetic eye exam your eye doctor will utilize advanced technology such as an OCT and visual fields, to monitor your eyes and ensure that there are no changes that may indicate mismanaged diabetes. In the event where changes are present it is extremely important to let your care team know so that they can alter your treatment and prevent any permanent vision loss.
Diabetic Retinopathy
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Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition that occurs in people with diabetes. If you are diabetic, it’s essential to be monitored by an eye doctor who can guide you with the proper precautions or next steps to take to preserve your vision.

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