Causes and Treatments for Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes is an unfortunately common medical condition that affects millions of people across the globe. While Type I diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, patients with Type II diabetes find that their body no longer uses insulin properly, often due to changes caused by obesity or unregulated blood sugar levels. In addition to the widely-known symptoms and co-morbid disorders that to go hand in hand with diabetes, is another slightly lesser known complication of being diabetic – a condition known as diabetic retinopathy.

What is diabetic retinopathy and what causes it?

Diabetic retinopathy, also known as diabetes mellitus, affects an estimated 285 million people worldwide, and it is a leading cause of vision loss. It is a progressive condition, and it usually takes several years before it reaches a stage where it can threaten your vision.

Diabetic retinopathy is caused when persistently high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels that serve the retina. This normally happens in three main stages.

  • Background retinopathy: tiny bulges develop in the blood vessels. They bleed a little, but often not enough to affect your vision.
  • Pre-proliferative retinopathy: the blood vessels are subjected to more severe and widespread changes that cause the bleeding to become more significant.
  • Proliferative retinopathy: new blood vessels and some scar tissue develops on the retina, but these are weak and bleed easily. At this stage some vision loss is expected.

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy

The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy are extremely subtle in the early stages, and so many patients do not realize that they are suffering from the condition until the disorder is significantly more advanced. When symptoms do become apparent, they typically include:

  • Shapes floating in your field of vision
  • Blurred or patchy vision
  • Red and/or painful eyes
  • Gradually worsening vision
  • Sudden vision loss

Most Ophthalmologists now offer routine diabetic eye screening examinations for people over the age of 12, which increase the likelihood of identifying signs of condition early and before they can have a detrimental effect on your vision.

diabetic retinopathy

How can I reduce my risk of developing diabetic retinopathy?

If you are diabetic, it is a good idea to adhere to the following advice, which will help minimize your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.

  • Take your diabetes medication exactly as prescribed
  • Maintain control of your blood sugar and cholesterol levels
  • Maintain healthy blood pressure
  • Focus on keeping your weight within the healthy parameters
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Stop smoking
  • Attend all of your appointments with your general health doctor and Ophthalmologist

Treatments for diabetic retinopathy

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for diabetic retinopathy. Nevertheless, studies have shown that maintaining good control over your diabetes and blood pressure can potentially bring back some lost vision. In particular, maintaining a healthy blood pressure will help to keep the blood vessels in your eyes healthy too.

With that said, there are a few different treatment options that can reduce the swelling caused by diabetic retinopathy, thus slowing vision loss and potentially improving the patient’s vision.

Anti-VGEF medication

One treatment that we may suggest is known as Anti-VGEF medication. Administered via an injection into the eye, this medication can reduce swelling in the macula, which can slow the degeneration of the patient’s eyesight. Anti-VGEF injections are normally given as part of a series in a treatment plan that is tailored specifically to your individual needs. Your eye doctor will be able to estimate how many injections you will require.

Laser surgery

Laser technology has revolutionized the world of Ophthalmology, and its impact can also be seen in treating diabetic retinopathy. With accuracy and precision that is simply impossible using only human hands, laser surgery focuses on sealing off leaking blood vessels in the eye. This reduces swelling in the retina, shrinks the blood vessels and in some cases, even prevents them from growing again.


In cases where diabetic retinopathy has become extremely advanced, we may recommend a surgery called a vitrectomy. This is where we will remove vitreous gel and blood from the leaking blood vessels, as well as any scar tissue which may have formed. This allows light to focus on the retina more accurately, helping the patient to see more clearly.

If you suffer from diabetes, it is a good idea to go to routine Ophthalmology screenings to rule out diabetic retinopathy or receive treatment in its earliest stages. Contact Progressive Ophthalmology today to discuss your ocular health and arrange a screening test. Call 718-565-2020.