Diabetic Retinopathy

What is it?

Diabetic retinopathy is a diabetic complication that affects the eye. It is caused by damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye (retina).

At first, diabetic retinopathy may cause no symptoms or only mild vision problems. Eventually, it can cause blindness.

The condition can develop in anyone who has type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The longer you have diabetes and the less controlled your blood sugar is, the more likely you are to develop this eye complication.

Symptoms include spots or dark strings floating in your vision (floaters), blurred vision, fluctuating vision, impaired colour vision, dark or empty areas in your vision and vision loss.

How is it treated?

Treatment depends largely on the type of diabetic retinopathy and how severe it is, but the aim is to slow down or stop the progression of the condition.

For mild or moderate non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, treatment may not be needed right away. However, it is important to undergo regular eye examinations to determine when treatment may be necessary.

For more advanced diabetic retinopathy surgical treatment may be necessary, which could include one of the following:

Focal laser treatment or photocoagulation to stop or slow the leakage of blood and fluid in the eye.

Scatter laser treatment, also known as pan-retinal photocoagulation, can shrink the abnormal blood vessels.

Finally, vitrectomy is a procedure that uses a tiny incision in the eye to remove blood from the middle of the eye (vitreous), as well as scar tissue that is tugging on the retina.

Surgery often slows or stops the progression of diabetic retinopathy, but it is not a cure. Because diabetes is a lifelong condition, future retinal damage and vision loss may still occur.