Diabetic Retinopathy: Frequently Asked Questions

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition in which high blood sugar causes retinal blood vessels to swell and leak blood.


Who's at the most risk for diabetic retinopathy?

Fluctuating blood sugar levels increase risk for this disease, as does long-term diabetes.

Most people don't develop diabetic retinopathy until they've had diabetes for at least 10 years.

Please click here to watch a video with an eye doctor explaining diabetic eye diseases.
In this video, an eye doctor explains diabetic eye disease. (Video: National Eye Institute)

However, adult onset (type 2) diabetics should be evaluated at the time of diagnosis and every year thereafter, whereas juvenile onset (type 1) diabetics should be evaluated five years after diagnosis and every year thereafter, at a minimum.

Is there any way to prevent diabetic retinopathy?

Keeping your blood sugar at an even level can help prevent diabetic retinopathy. If you have high blood pressure, keeping that under control is helpful as well.

Even controlled diabetes can lead to diabetic retinopathy, so you should have your eyes examined once a year; that way, your doctor can begin treating any retinal damage as soon as possible.

What are the signs and symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?

In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, you might have no symptoms at all, or you might have blurred vision.

In the later stages, you develop cloudy vision, blind spots or floaters. But never assume that good vision means all is well in the retina! This can be a setup for disaster.

What are the different types of diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is classified as either nonproliferative or proliferative.

Nonproliferative retinopathy is the early stage, where small retinal blood vessels break and leak.

In proliferative retinopathy, new blood vessels grow abnormally within the retina. This new growth can cause scarring or a retinal detachment, which can lead to vision loss. The new blood vessels may also grow or bleed into the vitreous humor, the transparent gel filling the back of the eye in front of the retina.

Is diabetic retinopathy curable?

No. Early treatment can slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy, but is not likely to reverse any vision loss.

What diabetic retinopathy treatments are currently available?

The best treatment is to keep your diabetes under control; blood pressure control also helps.

Your doctor may decide on laser photocoagulation to cause regression of leaking blood vessels and prevent new blood vessel growth. If blood gets into the vitreous humor, your doctor might want to perform a procedure called a vitrectomy.

Also, there are a number of new diabetic retinopathy treatment options currently in clinical trials or other stages of development.

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Page updated November 2017


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