Retinopathy is damage to the retina (back of the eye). This disorder is the result of damaged blood vessels in the eyes due to high blood sugar levels in those suffering from diabetes.

If you have been diabetic for some time, you have a high risk of developing retinopathy and have a 25 times greater risk of vision loss.

Diabetes may actually cause blood vessels to form in both the iris (colored portion of the eye) and the retina. Abnormal blood vessels can result in glaucoma.  Formed over the retina, the blood vessels can break and cause scar tissue that then pulls the retina away from the back of the eye; a condition known as retinal detachment. If left untreated, retinal detachment can cause blindness.

Non-Proliferative or Background Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a progressive disease where initial damage to blood vessels can cause fluid leakage or bleeding, retina swelling and the formation of deposits. This early form is known as non-proliferative or background retinopathy.

Proliferative Retinopathy

As the disease progresses, new blood vessels begin to develop on the retina. Breakage of the vessels can cause bleeding into the vitreous humor (gel that fills the space in the interior eye). Proliferative retinopathy is very serious and can lead to blindness.

Causes of Diabetic Retinopathy

  • Long term diabetes (10 plus years)
  • Changes in blood sugar levels that cause damage to blood vessels

Signs and Symptoms

If you have diabetes, you are at high risk for developing diabetic retinopathy. Unfortunately, by the time you notice symptoms, your vision may already be irreparably damaged by the disease. It is imperative that you receive regular eye exams to detect and monitor the condition.

Some symptoms that indicate diabetic retinopathy is progressing include:

  • Floaters and flashers
  • Light sensitivity
  • Difficulty seeing close-up
  • Double vision
  • Clouded vision

Treatment Options

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, schedule an appointment for a comprehensive eye exam. It is important that you continue to be evaluated once every year even if you have no symptoms.

Statistics show that, with treatment, 95 percent of those with diabetic retinopathy can avoid substantial vision loss.

Your evaluation will require examination in the back of the eye (retina) to observe any changes in the blood vessels. This may include a fluorescein angiography where a dye is injected into the body that temporarily causes the blood vessels to become fluorescent and reveal even the minutest leaks.

The test is painless and the dye harmless. However, your vision will be slightly blurred for a couple of hours and your eyes more light sensitive. It is recommended that you arrange for transportation home after the exam and wear sunglasses until your light sensitivity diminishes.


Damage to the retina can be treated with heat from a laser to seal or destroy leaking blood vessels. The laser seals off leaking blood vessels and inhibits new growth. Photocoagulation is a painless procedure and takes just minutes to perform.


Blood that leaks into the vitreous humor can be removed surgically and removal of the vitreous gel from the middle of the eye may be necessary as in the case of retinal detachment. The procedure can be done on an in- or outpatient basis.

As with all forms of diabetes, taking good care of yourself is necessary to decrease your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. The following guidelines should be followed along with regular medicinal treatment and abiding by recommendations from your doctor.

  • Maintain good blood sugar levels
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exercise 3-5 times per week
  • Take any prescribed medication

Diabetic retinopathy can be detected during a regular eye exam. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, be sure to get a yearly comprehensive exam. If you are experiencing any of the above signs or symptoms, call our office at 425.822.8253 for an immediate appointment.