What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is retinopathy (damage to the retina) caused by complications of diabetes mellitus, which can eventually lead to blindness. It is an ocular manifestation of systemic disease that affects up to 80% of all patients who have had diabetes for 10 years or more[1]. Despite these intimidating statistics, research indicates that at least 90% of these new cases could be reduced if there was proper and vigilant treatment and monitoring of the eyes[2].

Signs and Symptoms

Diabetic retinopathy often has no early warning signs. Even macular edema, which may cause vision loss more rapidly, may not have any warning signs for some time. In general, however, a person with macular edema is likely to have blurred vision, making it hard to do things like read or drive. In some cases, the vision will get better or worse during the day.

As new blood vessels form at the back of the eye as a part of proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR), they can bleed (hemorrhage) and blur vision. The first time this happens, it may not be very severe. In most cases, it will leave just a few specks of blood, or spots, floating in a person's visual field, though the spots often go away after a few hours.

These spots are often followed within a few days or weeks by a much greater leakage of blood, which blurs vision. In extreme cases, a person will only be able to tell light from dark in that eye. It may take the blood anywhere from a few days to months or even years to clear from the inside of the eye, and in some cases the blood will not clear. These types of large hemorrhages tend to happen more than once, often during sleep.

  1. PJ Kertes, TM Johnson Eds. Evidence Based Eye Care (c) 2007. 2. Tapp, R. et al (2003) The prevalence of and factors associated with diabetic retinopathy in the Australian population. Diabetes care. 26(6), pg. 1371.

                                                     
© 2014 Envision Eye Specialists - All rights reserved.