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Diabetic Retinopathy

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a disease that leads to blurry, distorted vision and blindness.  It occurs when diabetes weakens blood vessels inside your eye.  These weak vessels leak fluid into an area of the eye called the retina.  New, distorted vessels may grow, then bleed.  These vessels can damage areas of the retina, causing vision loss.

What causes Diabetic Retinopathy?

If you have diabetes mellitus, your body does not use and store sugar properly.  High blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels in the retina and the nerve layer at the back of the eye. High blood pressure, pregnancy, and smoking can combine with diabetes to make retinopathy worse.

What are the symptoms?

You can have diabetic retinopathy without knowing it.  There is no pain and usually no outward sign.  Over time, you may notice blurred vision. Regular eye exams are so important in  stopping the progress of this condition. Blindness is rare if retinopathy is diagnosed and treated on time.

How is diabetic retinopathy diagnosed?

A medical examination is the only way to find changes inside your eye.  If Dr.D finds diabetic retinopathy, he may order color photographs  of the retina and a special test called fluorescein angiography to find out if you need treatment.     


Fluorescein angiography is a diagnostic procedure that uses a special camera to take a series of photographs of the retina. A small amount of yellow dye is injected into an arm vein. This test will show:    

  1. Which  blood vessels, if any,  are leaking fluid.

  2. How much extra fluid is leaking.

  3. How many blood vessels are closed.

  4. Whether severe changes are occurring.

The angiogram helps Dr. D to determine:
  • What is the condition of the retina.

  • Is laser treatment necessary.

  • Where to apply laser treatment if necessary.

There are Two types of Diabetic Retinopathy
  1. Background (Mild)

  2. Proliferative (SEVERE)


Mild Background Diatibetic retinopathy must be monitored AT LEAST ONCE A YEAR to make sure it is not progressing to proliferative diabetic retinopaty.

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy must be treated with laser to prevent serious vision loss.

How is Diabetic Retinopathy treated?

The best treatment is to prevent the development of retinopathy as much as possible.  Strict control of your blood sugar will significantly reduce the long term risk of vision loss from diabetic retinopathy.


Laser surgery is often recommended for people with SEVERE Diabetic Retinopathy. Laser surgery shrinks the abnormal new vessels and reduces swelling.  It is usually performed in the office and an anesthetic eye drop is often all that is necessary. Some people see the laser spots near the center of their vision following treatment, but they usually fade with time.

Facts about laser surgery include:
  • Multiple laser treatments over time are sometimes necessary. 

  • Laser surgery is designed to stop the progression of the condition, NOT IMPROVE VISION.

  • Laser surgery is not always 100% effective.

Potential Side Effects of laser surgery include:
  • Temporary blurred vision (few days to a few weeks)

  • Occasional mild loss of central or peripheral vision

  • Decreased night vision

When to Schedule an Examination?
  • At least once a year

  • More frequently if you have diabetes mellitus.

  • Pregnant women with diabetes

  • If you have any blurred vision or spots.

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