Diabetic Retinopathy

Also known as: Retinopathy

The retina is the light-sensitive part of the eye that allows you to see. High blood sugar can damage blood vessels of the retina and cause them to leak or bleed. This damage can lead to abnormal blood vessel growth. This condition is called diabetic retinopathy. You may not have symptoms early in the disease. Later, there may be floaters, blurred vision, or poor night vision. There may also be partial or complete vision loss.

Early cases of diabetic retinopathy can be treated by carefully controlling blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Surgery or laser treatments may help restore lost vision. Laser surgery can shrink abnormal blood vessels or close ones that are leaking. Medicines injected in the eye can help decrease swelling of the retina.

View of inside of eye, including retina

Home care

  • Take all medicines, including insulin or oral diabetic medicine, exactly as prescribed.

  • Follow the diet advised by your healthcare provider. If you have high cholesterol, follow a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet.

  • Monitor blood sugars as advised.

  • Try to achieve your ideal weight.

  • If you smoke, quit smoking. Tobacco use worsens the effect of diabetes on your blood vessels.

  • If you have high blood pressure, consider buying an automatic blood pressure machine. These are available at most pharmacies. Use this to monitor your blood pressure. Report your blood pressure readings to your healthcare provider.

  • Exercise regularly.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. You must have a complete eye exam at least once a year, more often if needed. Untreated diabetic retinopathy can lead to complete loss of vision. Occupational therapists can help you adapt to any vision loss you have, including learning techniques to safely administer insulin.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur.

  • Increasing blurriness or any sudden changes in your vision

  • Sudden flashes of light inside your eye

  • New floaters (small dots or strings that seem to be moving across your field of vision)

  • Eye pain, redness, or discharge from your eyelid

  • New dark spots appearing in your field of vision

  • Halos around lights

  • Dimness of vision

  • Partial or complete loss of vision

Women who are pregnant and have pre-existing type 1 or type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of retinopathy. Women with diabetes should have an eye exam before becoming pregnant, or in the first trimester of their pregnancy. They should continue to be monitored every trimester and for 1 year after delivery, depending on the severity of the retinopathy.