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Diabetic retinopathy explained

Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition that can cause vision loss and blindness in people who have diabetes. It affects blood vessels in the retina (the light-sensitive layer of tissue in the back of your eye).

If you have diabetes, it is important to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. Diabetic retinopathy may not have any symptoms at first — but finding it early can help you take steps to protect your vision.

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy

During the preliminary stages of diabetic retinopathy, it is common to experience few or no symptoms. In some cases, you may notice changes in your vision, like trouble reading or seeing faraway objects.

In later stages of the disease, blood vessels in the retina start to bleed into the vitreous (gel-like fluid that fills your eye). If this happens, you may see dark, floating spots or streaks that look like cobwebs. Seek treatment right away if you experience these signs.

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Other conditions caused by diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy can lead to other serious eye conditions:


Diabetic macular edema (DME)

DME happens when blood vessels in the retina leak fluid into the macula (a part of the retina needed for central vision). This causes blurry vision.


Neovascular glaucoma

Diabetic retinopathy can cause abnormal blood vessels to grow out of the retina and block fluid from draining out of the eye. This causes a type of glaucoma..


Retinal detachment

Diabetic retinopathy can cause scars to form in the back of your eye. When the scars pull your retina away from the back of your eye, it is called a retinal detachment.

Diabetic retinopathy risk factors

Anyone with diabetes can get diabetic retinopathy.  Your risk increases the longer you have diabetes. Over time, more than half of people with diabetes will develop diabetic retinopathy. The good news is that you can lower your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by controlling your diabetes.


What causes diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by high blood sugar due to diabetes. Over time, having too much sugar in your blood can damage your retina.

Diabetes also damages blood vessels all over the body. The damage to your eyes starts when sugar blocks the tiny blood vessels that go to your retina, causing them to leak fluid or bleed. To make up for these blocked blood vessels, your eyes then grow new blood vessels. These new blood vessels can leak or bleed easily.


How will my eye doctor check for diabetic retinopathy?

Our eye doctors can check for diabetic retinopathy as part of a dilated eye exam.  Eye drops to dilate (widen) your pupil are administered and then specialized testing like an OCT (optical coherence tomography), fundus photo or fluorescein angiogram are performed to obtain precise measurements and photos of your eye.


What’s the treatment for diabetic retinopathy and DME?

In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, your eye doctor will monitor your vision and any possible changes. It is common to need a comprehensive dilated eye exam as often as every 2 to 4 months for preventative purposes.

In later stages, it is important to start treatment right away. While it will not undo any damage to your vision, treatment can cease or slow any further damage.

Injections:  Medicines called anti-VEGF drugs can slow down or reverse diabetic retinopathy. Other medicines, called corticosteroids, can also help. Dr. Kostamaa is dedicated to providing a wide range of options, including Eylea, Lucentis and Avastin.

Laser treatment: To reduce swelling in your retina, our surgeons can use lasers to make the blood vessels shrink and stop leaking.

Eye surgery: If your retina is bleeding excessively or you have extensive scarring, your doctor may recommend a type of surgery called a vitrectomy

SEES Management Solutions Diabetic Retinopathy


Eric Kostamaa, M.D.

Eric Kostamaa, M.D.

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