What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

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Diabetic retinopathy is a serious eye condition that affects people with diabetes. It occurs when high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of vision loss and blindness among working-age adults.


The primary cause of diabetic retinopathy is long-term high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes. Over time, elevated blood sugar can weaken and damage the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina, leading to various complications, including:

  • Microaneurysms: Weak areas in the blood vessels that can swell, leak, or rupture.
  • Hemorrhages: Damaged blood vessels in the back of the eye can cause bleeding internally.
  • Macular Edema: Swelling of the macula, the central part of the retina responsible for sharp vision.
  • Neovascularization: Abnormal growth of new blood vessels, which are fragile and prone to bleeding.


In the early stages, diabetic retinopathy may not cause any noticeable symptoms. As the condition progresses, symptoms may include:

  • Blurred or Spotty Vision: Objects may appear blurry or hazy, and dark spots or floaters may be present in the field of vision.
  • Fluctuating Vision: Vision may fluctuate or change over time, making it difficult to see clearly.
  • Vision Loss: In advanced stages, diabetic retinopathy can cause significant vision loss or even blindness.

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

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Prevention and Management

While diabetic retinopathy cannot always be prevented, individuals with diabetes can take steps to reduce their risk and manage the condition effectively:

  • Control Blood Sugar Levels: Maintaining tight control of blood sugar levels through diet, exercise, and medication can help prevent or slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy.
  • Regular Eye Exams: People with diabetes should undergo comprehensive dilated eye exams at least once a year to monitor for signs of diabetic retinopathy and other eye complications.
  • Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Control: Managing blood pressure and cholesterol levels can help protect the blood vessels in the eyes and reduce the risk of diabetic retinopathy.
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Healthy lifestyle choices, such as quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and staying physically active, can support overall eye health and reduce the risk of diabetic retinopathy.

Treatment Options

Treatment for diabetic retinopathy depends on the stage and severity of the condition but may include:

  • Laser Therapy: Laser treatment can help seal leaking blood vessels and reduce swelling in the macula.
  • Intravitreal Injections: Medications injected into the eye can help shrink abnormal blood vessels and reduce inflammation.
  • Vitrectomy: In advanced cases with severe bleeding or retinal detachment, surgery may be necessary to remove blood or scar tissue from the eye.

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

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Diabetic retinopathy is a serious eye condition that can lead to vision loss and blindness if left untreated. Regular eye exams are important, not just to update glasses, but to monitor and detect any changes in your eye health. If you have diabetes, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider and eye care specialist to develop a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to your needs.

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Ivan Yong

Dr. Ivan Yong is an optometrist with over 12 years of experience in the optical industry. He earned his doctorate from the Southern California College of Optometry and has practiced in various settings, including private practice, community health, and ophthalmology. Dr. Yong aims to expand access to affordable eyewear and advance eye health worldwide.