Diabetic retinopathy is a complication that occurs when the blood vessels in your retina become damaged. At first, you may experience no symptoms or mild vision problems. As the damage increases, your vision can worsen and disappear.

Symptoms

Typically, diabetic retinopathy affects both eyes in equal measure. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your care provider right away:

  • Blurred vision
  • Dark spots or holes in your vision
  • Dots or “floaters” in your vision
  • Difficulty seeing or distinguishing colors
  • Partial or total loss of vision

Causes

Here’s how diabetic retinopathy develops: Glucose buildup in your blood damages the vessels that supply blood to your retina

  • Eventually, this damage blocks the flow of blood to your retina
  • To compensate, your eye grows new blood vessels, but they’re not as strong or effective
  • The new blood vessels rupture or leak fluid into your retina, blurring your vision
  • As your condition worsens, more blood vessels become blocked and scar tissue builds
  • This buildup creates extra pressure that may cause your retina to detach
  • You may develop glaucoma or other conditions potentially resulting in blindness

At Risk Patients

Anyone who has type 1 or type 2 diabetes can develop this condition. The less controlled your blood sugar levels and the longer you have diabetes for, the more likely you are to develop diabetic retinopathy.

Diagnosis

A dilated eye exam is necessary for diagnosing diabetic retinopathy. By dilating your pupils, your clinician can assess changes to blood vessels, swelling, and other damage. He or she may also conduct a diagnostic test.

Importance of Regular Screening

Regular screening is key in detecting and treating diabetic retinopathy. Follow these screening guidelines:

If you have type 1 diabetes…

  • Have your first eye exam within 5 years of being diagnosed with diabetes
  • Have an eye exam each year after your first exam

If you have type 2 diabetes…

  • Have your first eye exam at the time you are diagnosed with diabetes*
  • Have an eye exam each year after your first exam

*Type 2 diabetes often goes undetected for years and diabetic retinopathy may have begun during that time.

References

1. Diabetic retinopathy. Mayo Clinic. May 30, 2018. Accessed August 17, 2018.

2. Holland K. What you should know about diabetes and eye exams. Healthline. Reviewed April 7, 2016. Accessed August 17, 2018.3. What is diabetic retinopathy? WebMD. Reviewed March 9, 2017. Accessed August 17, 2018.