Diabetic retinopathy occurs when high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels in the retina of your eye. This causes the vessels to swell and leak, or close and stop the blood from passing through. These changes can blur your vision.

Diabetic retinopathy causes

There are two types of diabetic retinopathy:

  • Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR). This is the earlier stage of the condition, where tiny blood vessels leak and make the macula (center of the retina) swell. It’s the most common reason why people with diabetes lose their sight. Blood vessels may also close off in a condition called macular ischemia. When blood can’t reach the macula, your vision will be blurry.
  • Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR). This is the more advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy, and it happens when the retina grows new blood vessels. These new vessels are fragile, and they often bleed into the vitreous fluid that fills the space between your lens and your retina. It’s a serious condition and can lead to you losing both your central and side vision.

Diabetic retinopathy symptoms

Diabetic retinopathy often doesn’t have symptoms in its early stages. As it gets worse, you may have the following symptoms:

  • See an increasing number of floaters, which are small flecks in your field of vision
  • Have blurry vision
  • See blank or dark areas
  • Have poor night vision
  • Notice colors that appear faded
  • Lose your vision

Diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy

Your ophthalmologist will put drops in your eye to dilate your pupils. This lets them look through a special lens to see the inside of your eye and look for:

  • Abnormal blood vessels
  • Growth of new blood vessels and scar tissue
  • Bleeding in the vitreous fluid
  • Abnormalities in your optic nerve

You may also have a fluorescein angiography, in which a special dye is injected into a vein in your arm. Your ophthalmologist will take pictures with a special camera as the dye circulates through the blood vessels in your eyes.

Diabetic retinopathy treatment

Your treatment depends on what your ophthalmologist sees in your eyes. If you have mild or moderate non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, you may not need treatment right away. Your ophthalmologist will check your eyes frequently to learn when you need treatment.

If you have proliferative (advanced) diabetic retinopathy, you and your doctor may decide to use the following treatments:

  • Medical control: You may have medications to control your blood pressure and blood sugar, which can stop vision loss.
  • Injections into your eye: Anti-VEGF medication helps reduce the swelling of your macula and slows vision loss. Steroid medication can also reduce swelling.
  • Laser surgery: This surgery can help seal off leaking blood vessels and reduce swelling of the retina. It can also help shrink blood vessels.
  • Vitrectomy: This is used if you have advanced proliferative diabetic retinopathy. With this surgery, your ophthalmologist will remove the vitreous fluid and blood from leaking vessels in the back of your eye. This lets light rays focus on the retina again, which allows you to see.

Why choose Ohio State for diabetic retinopathy treatment

Diabetes affects over 34.2 million people in the United States, with diabetic retinopathy being one of the leading causes of blindness. At The Ohio State University Havener Eye Institute, it’s important to us to approach this head-on, combining state-of-the-art treatment with personalized eye care for every patient. Our retinal specialists have been trained at world-renowned institutions across the country, making our institute one of the top eye care facilities in the nation.

The Robinson Advanced Imaging Center provides our patients access to the most advanced ophthalmic imaging equipment available, including fundus photography, fluorescein angiography, spectral domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT) and ophthalmic sonography. All of these are critical in monitoring the progression and treatment of diabetic retinopathy.

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