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At a glance: Diabetic Retinopathy

  • Early Symptoms:

    None

  • Later Symptoms:

    Blurry vision, floating spots in your vision, blindness

  • Diagnosis:

    Dilated eye exam

  • Treatment:

    Medicine, laser treatment, surgery

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition that can cause vision loss and blindness in people who have diabetes. It affects blood vessels in the retina (the light-sensitive layer of tissue in the back of your eye).  

If you have diabetes, it‚Äôs important for you to¬†get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.¬†Diabetic¬†retinopathy¬†may not have any symptoms¬†at first ‚ÄĒ but finding it early¬†can help¬†you take steps to¬†protect your¬†vision.¬†

Managing¬†your¬†diabetes¬†‚ÄĒ¬†by staying physically active,¬†eating¬†healthy, and¬†taking¬†your medicine¬†‚ÄĒ¬†can¬†also help you¬†prevent or delay vision loss.¬†¬†

Other types of diabetic eye disease

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss for people with diabetes. But diabetes can also make you more likely to develop several other eye conditions: 

  • Cataracts.¬†Having¬†diabetes¬†makes you¬†2¬†to¬†5 times more likely to develop cataracts.¬†It also makes you¬†more likely to get¬†them¬†at a¬†younger¬†age.¬†Learn more about cataracts.¬†
  • Open-angle glaucoma.¬†Having¬†diabetes nearly doubles¬†your¬†risk of¬†developing¬†a type of glaucoma called open-angle¬†glaucoma.¬†Learn more about glaucoma.¬†

What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?

The early stages of diabetic retinopathy usually don’t have any symptoms. Some people notice changes in their vision, like trouble reading or seeing faraway objects. These changes may come and go. 

In¬†later¬†stages¬†of the disease, blood vessels in the retina start to bleed¬†into the vitreous (gel-like fluid in the center of the eye).¬†If this happens, you¬†may¬†see¬†dark,¬†floating spots¬†or¬†streaks¬†that look like cobwebs.¬†Sometimes, the¬†spots clear¬†up¬†on their own¬†‚ÄĒ but¬†it‚Äôs important to get treatment right away. Without treatment, the¬†bleeding¬†can happen again,¬†get worse,¬†or¬†cause scarring.

What other problems can diabetic retinopathy cause?

Diabetic retinopathy can lead to other serious eye conditions: 

  • Diabetic macular edema (DME).¬†Over time, about half of people with diabetic retinopathy will develop¬†DME. DME¬†happens when blood vessels in the retina leak fluid,¬†causing¬†swelling in¬†the macula (a part¬†of the retina).¬†If you have DME, your vision will become blurry because of the extra fluid in your macula.¬†¬†
  • Neovascular glaucoma.¬†Diabetic retinopathy can cause abnormal blood vessels to grow¬†out of the retina¬†and block fluid from draining out of the eye. This¬†causes¬†a type of glaucoma.
  • Retinal detachment.¬†Diabetic retinopathy can¬†cause scars to form¬†in the back of your eye. When the scars¬†pull¬†your¬†retina away from the back of your eye, it‚Äôs called tractional retinal detachment.

Am I at risk for diabetic retinopathy?

Anyone with any kind of diabetes can get diabetic retinopathy ‚ÄĒ¬†including¬†people with type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes (diabetes that can develop during pregnancy).¬†¬†¬†

Your risk increases the longer you have diabetes. More than 2 in 5 Americans with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy. The good news is that you can lower your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by controlling your diabetes.  

Women with diabetes who become pregnant ‚ÄĒ or women who develop gestational diabetes ‚ÄĒ are at high risk for getting¬†diabetic retinopathy. If you have¬†diabetes¬†and are¬†pregnant,¬†have a comprehensive dilated eye exam as soon as possible.¬†Ask your doctor if you‚Äôll need¬†additional eye exams¬†during¬†your¬†pregnancy.¬†

What causes diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy¬†is caused by high¬†blood sugar¬†due to diabetes.¬†Over time, having too much sugar in your blood can damage your¬†retina ‚ÄĒ the part of your eye that detects light and sends signals to your brain¬†through a nerve in the back of your eye (optic nerve).¬†¬†

Diabetes damages blood vessels all over the body. The damage to your eyes starts when sugar blocks the tiny blood vessels that go to your retina, causing them to leak fluid or bleed. To make up for these blocked blood vessels, your eyes then grow new blood vessels that don’t work well. These new blood vessels can leak or bleed easily. 

How will my eye doctor check for diabetic retinopathy?

Eye doctors can check for¬†diabetic retinopathy¬†as part of¬†a dilated eye exam.¬†The exam is¬†simple and painless ‚ÄĒ¬†your doctor will give you some eye drops to dilate (widen) your pupil and then¬†check¬†your eyes¬†for¬†diabetic retinopathy¬†and other eye problems.

average blood sugar level for adults meal plan (‚≠źÔłŹ events) | average blood sugar level for adults vegetarian diethow to average blood sugar level for adults for If you have diabetes, it‚Äôs very important to get regular eye exams. If you do develop diabetic retinopathy, early treatment can stop the¬†damage and¬†prevent blindness.¬†¬†

average blood sugar level for adults treatment nih (ūüĎć undiagnosed) | average blood sugar level for adults yogurthow to average blood sugar level for adults for If your eye doctor thinks you may have severe diabetic retinopathy or the 1 last update 07 Jul 2020 DME, they may do a test called a¬†fluorescein angiogram. This test lets the doctor see pictures of the blood vessels in your retina.¬†If your eye doctor thinks you may have severe diabetic retinopathy or DME, they may do a test called a¬†fluorescein angiogram. This test lets the doctor see pictures of the blood vessels in your retina.¬†

What can I do to prevent diabetic retinopathy?

Managing your diabetes is the best way to lower your risk of diabetic retinopathy. That means keeping for 1 last update 07 Jul 2020 your blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. You can do this by getting regular physical activity, eating healthy, and carefully following your doctor’s instructions for your insulin or other diabetes medicines.  Managing your diabetes is the best way to lower your risk of diabetic retinopathy. That means keeping your blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. You can do this by getting regular physical activity, eating healthy, and carefully following your doctor’s instructions for your insulin or other diabetes medicines.  

To help control your blood sugar, you’ll need a special test called an A1c test. This test shows your average blood sugar level over a 3-month period. Talk with your doctor about lowering your A1c level to help prevent or manage diabetic retinopathy.

Having high blood pressure or high cholesterol along with diabetes increases your risk for diabetic retinopathy. So controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol can also help lower your risk for vision loss.

What’s the treatment for diabetic retinopathy and DME?

In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, your eye doctor will probably just keep track of how your eyes are doing. Some people with diabetic retinopathy may need a comprehensive dilated eye exam as often as every 2 to 4 months.  

average blood sugar level for adults treatment insulin (‚ėĎ cramping) | average blood sugar level for adults herbshow to average blood sugar level for adults for In later stages, it‚Äôs important to start treatment right away¬†‚ÄĒ especially if you experience changes in your vision. While it won‚Äôt undo any damage to your vision, treatment can stop¬†your vision¬†from getting worse.¬†It‚Äôs also important to take¬†steps to control the 1 last update 07 Jul 2020 your diabetes,¬†blood pressure,¬†and cholesterol.¬†In later stages, it‚Äôs important to start treatment right away¬†‚ÄĒ especially if you experience changes in your vision. While it won‚Äôt undo any damage to your vision, treatment can stop¬†your vision¬†from getting worse.¬†It‚Äôs also important to take¬†steps to control your diabetes,¬†blood pressure,¬†and cholesterol.¬†

Injections. Medicines called anti-VEGF drugs can slow down or reverse diabetic retinopathy. Other medicines, called corticosteroids, can also help.

Learn more about injections to treat diabetic retinopathy

Laser treatment. To reduce swelling in your retina, eye doctors can use lasers to make the blood the 1 last update 07 Jul 2020 vessels shrink and stop leaking.Laser treatment. To reduce swelling in your retina, eye doctors can use lasers to make the blood vessels shrink and stop leaking.

Learn more about laser treatment for diabetic retinopathy

Eye surgery. If your retina is bleeding a lot or you have a lot of scars in your eye, your eye doctor may recommend a type of surgery called a vitrectomy.

Learn more about vitrectomy

What is the latest research on diabetic retinopathy and DME?

Scientists are studying better ways to find, treat, and prevent vision loss in people with diabetes.

Last updated: August 3, 2019