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What Happens When You Have Diabetic Retinopathy?

by Damion Wasylow 26 October 2020 05:00 AM

ophthalmologist with eye anatomy model
Diabetic retinopathy is one of many health complications associated with diabetes. Over time, glucose buildup damages the small blood vessels in the retina, the light sensitive tissue that lines the inside of the eye. Those blood vessels then leak blood and fluid, leading to swelling of the retinal tissue. 


In early stages, diabetic retinopathy may produce no symptoms at all. As it progresses, patients experience floaters, blurred vision, blank or dark areas in their vision fields, poor night vision and diminished colors. Without effective treatment, diabetic retinopathy can lead to total blindness.


Diabetic retinopathy generally progresses through four stages. During the first two stages, known as mild and moderate nonproliferative retinopathy, increasing numbers of blood vessels in the eye swell and start to leak.

As swelling continues, the patient enters severe nonproliferative retinopathy, during which numerous blood vessels are blocked, preventing sufficient blood flow to the retina. In an attempt to counter this, the eye starts growing new blood vessels.

In the final stage, known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR), the fragile new blood vessels leak as well, and in higher concentrations. This resulting scar tissue causes the retina to separate from the tissue around it. This is known as retinal detachment, and it can lead to blindness.


A standard comprehensive eye exam can identify diabetic retinopathy. Any known patient history of diabetes will make the eye doctor particularly attuned to watch for signs of retinopathy. The doctor looks for changes in the blood vessels, including any evidence of new blood vessel growth, as well as any sign of the retina being swollen or detached.

Additional testing may include fluorescein angiography, a dye test to highlight damaged blood vessels, and/or optical coherence tomography, an imaging exam that reveals the thickness of the retina. 


While there is no cure for diabetic retinopathy, treatment can slow the disease’s impact on vision. That makes early diagnosis and treatment critical. Treatment often includes proper nutrition to control blood sugar and blood pressure, and medications to slow swelling. For more advanced cases, laser surgery may be applied to seal or shrink blood vessels. Retina surgery may also be necessary for advanced PDR.

If you have diabetes, contact North Florida Cataract Specialists and Vision Care today at 352-373-4300 to schedule a comprehensive eye exam or to learn more about diabetic retinopathy treatment options.



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