Diabetic Retinopathy


Diabetic retinopathy refers to any damage that occurs to the eye’s retina in conjunction with long-term diabetes. (Retinopathy refers to any non-inflammatory disease of the retina.) Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among American adults.

Warning Signs & Symptoms

Early diabetic retinopathy has no symptoms, but as it progresses, symptoms include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Blindness
  • Floaters or shadows
  • Missing areas of vision

There are two stages of diabetic retinopathy:

  • The early stage is nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, in which blood vessels in the retina begin to leak. If the leakage results in accumulation of fluid in the retina, blurring of vision can occur.

  • The later stage, proliferative diabetic retinopathy, occurs when the blood vessels in the retina close and abnormal ones grow in their place. This can lead to vision loss, as well as detachment of the retina and glaucoma.


An eye exam is the only way to detect diabetic retinopathy in its early stages before it becomes symptomatic. Tests include fundus photography, fluorescein angiography and optical coherence tomography (OCT).


Typically, treatment does not reverse damage, but it will prevent the disease from getting worse. Laser surgery can shrink abnormal blood vessels and reduce macular swelling. When there is bleeding in the eye, a surgeon may remove the vitreous humor from the eye using a procedure called a vitrectomy.


Since early stages are asymptomatic, everyone with diabetes should have annual eye exams. Some groups are at higher risk due to their likelihood of having diabetes:

  • African Americans
  • Latinos
  • Native Americans

All people at high risk should closely monitor blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol.