Diabetic Retinopathy

Overview

What kinds of eye problems can diabetes cause?

Damage to the blood vessels in your eyes (called diabetic retinopathy) can cause vision loss. When retinopathy is found early, laser treatment can help keep you from losing your vision. If it’s not treated, retinopathy can cause blindness.

Diabetic retinopathy affects your retina. The retina is the part of the eye that is sensitive to light and sends messages to your brain about what you see. A healthy retina is necessary for good vision. Uncontrolled or poorly controlled diabetes can damage the small blood vessels of the retina. When the blood vessels of your retina are damaged, fluid can leak from them and cause swelling. The swelling and fluid can cause blurry vision and make it hard for you to see. If retinopathy worsens, your eye may begin to form new blood vessels over the retina. These vessels are fragile and can break easily and bleed. This bleeding can cause severe vision loss and blindness.

Symptoms

When should I call my doctor?

Call your doctor if you:

  • Have blurry vision for more than 2 days
  • Suddenly lose vision in 1 or both eyes
  • See floaters (black or gray spots, cobwebs or strings that move or drift when you move your eyes)
  • See flashing lights that aren’t really there
  • Have pain or pressure in your eye(s)

Prevention

How should I take care of my eyes?

The most important thing you can do is to have your eyes checked regularly–at least once a year. You probably won’t notice the early signs of diabetic retinopathy because the early changes in your eyes can only be seen through special equipment.

Tips on preventing diabetic retinopathy

  • Control your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get a yearly eye exam.
  • See your family doctor regularly.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Avoid alcohol.

Other Organizations

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • Am I at risk for diabetic retinopathy?
  • What signs should I look for if I think I may have diabetic retinopathy?
  • If I get diabetic retinopathy, can the vision loss be reversed?
  • Will I ever see normally again?
  • Are there medicines I can take for my symptoms?
  • What is the most important thing I can do to prevent diabetic retinopathy?