Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a progressive condition caused by high blood sugar and high blood pressure. Over time, small blood vessels in the eye are impacted, resulting in vision that is blurry or distorted, less sharp and colorful, and even vision loss.

What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Type 1 or 2 diabetes impacts all aspects of the body, including vision. Because of high sugar levels and high blood pressure associated with diabetes, over time, the condition begins to weaken the small blood vessels in the retina, diminishing vision and lowering the overall health of the eye. This condition usually affects both eyes.

Diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness, so early intervention is even more important to slow or stop vision loss. Vance Thompson Vision serves patients with world-class expertise to help them navigate diabetic retinopathy.

Types of Diabetic Retinopathy

When blood vessels in the eye are damaged, blood supply is reduced. The loss of blood causes the body to produce new blood vessels which are prone to breaking and leakage. These breaks may scar, causing vision loss.

Patients with diabetic retinopathy most commonly experience:

  • Blurry or distorted vision
  • Decreased visual acuity (sharpness of vision)
  • Floaters
  • Muted colors
  • Loss of vision

There are two types of diabetic retinopathy: non-proliferative and proliferative.

Non-proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy

This type happens when an increase in blood supply to the blood vessels in the retina results in leaks, causing the retina to swell. This is the early stage of diabetic retinopathy and may also be called “background diabetic retinopathy.”

Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy

This type occurs when blood vessels grow in and on top of the retina. These blood vessels are weaker than typical vessels, and when they break, bleeding into the eye occurs. This vitreous hemorrhage results in floaters and potential vision loss and needs to be treated surgically.

The symptoms, causes, and treatments for each condition vary, so your doctor will tailor a treatment plan to your specific case. Like many conditions, early intervention is crucial for successful treatment.

Treatments for Diabetic Retinopathy

Managing diabetic retinopathy begins with you. Maintaining a healthy diet and blood sugar and keeping blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol within normal ranges is vital for preserving your vision.

To further treat this condition, your ophthalmologist may recommend injections, lasers, surgery, or a combination of those three. Patients with diabetic retinopathy should expect to visit their doctor frequently.


Injecting medicines, usually steroids, directly into the eye’s fluid helps control production of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein commonly over-produced in diabetic retinopathy that causes unstable blood vessels to grow, and because of their instability, these vessels often leak.

Laser Treatment

For some patients, a laser may be used to prevent further leaking of blood vessels, prevent growth of new abnormal blood vessels, and reduce swelling.

Surgical Treatment

If bleeding and vision loss from diabetic retinopathy progresses, vitrectomy surgery is used to address symptoms of the condition.

Diabetic retinopathy cannot be cured, but consistent management should help maintain your vision.

Monitor Your Vision at Home

Patients with diabetic retinopathy can monitor their vision by downloading and printing their own Amsler chart. Post yours in an easy-to-see place such as your refrigerator for a daily check of your visual acuity. Step-by-step instructions are included with your download.


What to Expect

Care for diabetic retinopathy is a process that spans years. The retina team at Vance Thompson Vision will customize their treatment approach to fit your unique eyes, and over time, your care plan will be adjusted based on how your condition responds.

The first step to addressing diabetic retinopathy is a consultation during which extensive testing and measurements will be performed on your eyes. Based on your test results, the doctor will meet with you to recommend the best options to treat your condition and preserve your vision.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is damage to the blood vessels and tissue of the retina that occurs in people with diabetes.

How can I prevent diabetic retinopathy?

Monitoring and managing blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol are key preventative measures you can take to prevent this condition.

Does diabetic retinopathy go away without treatment?

There is currently no cure for diabetes. However, healthy nutrition with control of blood sugar and blood pressure is especially important for managing diabetes. It is also the most critical component to helping manage diabetic retinopathy. In early stages, it is possible to have improvement in the level of retinopathy by maintaining excellent control of your diabetes. Later stages do often require treatment to prevent further vision loss. Depending on the stage of diabetic eye disease you have, treatments may be recommended to help slow or prevent further vision loss.

What causes diabetic retinopathy? Could I develop diabetic retinopathy if my diabetes is well-controlled?

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by the progression of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Inflammation, changes to blood vessels as a person ages, cholesterol levels, and other factors contribute to the development of this condition in patients with diabetes. Even with good control of blood sugar levels, diabetic retinopathy may still develop if you have been living with diabetes for a long time. It is especially important to visit an eye doctor annually if you have diabetes so any progression can be identified early.

If one eye is affected, will the other one automatically be?

Both eyes are affected by diabetic retinopathy as diabetes is a disease affecting your whole body, but it can progress at different rates in each eye.

What is the first sign of diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetes can attack your eyes very subtly at first, so you may not know you have it until you have reached an advanced stage. This makes early screening very important. Vision loss is likely not present until the late stages of this condition. Early and consistent monitoring is important for patients with diabetes. Some warning signs can include blurry vision, loss of vibrancy of colors, floaters, and decreased sharpness of vision. If you have had a period of poor blood sugar control in the past, or have other conditions like damage to your kidneys and reduced sensation in your hands or feet, then diabetes is likely already affecting your eyes and you should get an eye exam.

Can diabetic retinopathy be reversed?

Damage to the eye caused by diabetic retinopathy typically can’t be fully reversed. The earlier it is identified, and your body's blood pressure and blood sugar are controlled, the more likely you are to regain vision or prevent further vision loss. At some stages, treatments can help bring some vision back when the condition is addressed early.

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Early intervention truly is the best treatment. Call our friendly, professional team today to schedule your retina consultation.

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