Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetes can have a number of effects on the eye. Blurry vision can be one of the early signs of diabetes and if you have diabetes you are more likely to develop cataracts and glaucoma.

If you have diabetes this does not necessarily mean that your sight will be affected, but there is a higher risk.

Many of the changes in the eye caused by diabetes can be prevented by early intervention but this will only happen if you have regular eye examinations.


What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic Retinopathy is a complication related to the disease known as diabetes.  In a worst case scenario it can lead to blindness.  Diabetic Retinopathy is the most common cause of blindness among people of working age in Britain.

This is a worst case scenario however, and often it can be controlled provided your diabetes is kept in check and by undergoing regular eye tests.  The latter is important as this is the only way the progression of your diabetic retinopathy can be checked.

Retinopathy is where damage has occurred to tiny blood vessels in the retina.  Though diabetes is the main cause of retinopathy very high blood pressure can induce the same symptoms.  As well as retinopathy, people who suffer with diabetes are also likely to contract cataracts and glaucoma.


What Exactly Happens to my Retina with Diabetic Retinopathy?

In essence the blood vessels of your retina leak, bleed, or swell up.  They can also become blocked.  Should your blood vessels burst new abnormal ones can grow.  When this happens it is called proliferative retinopathy.  We need to be careful should this happen, as this can lead to serious issues.

Blood vessels that become blocked may damage the cells of your retina, while bleeding blood vessels may bleed into the centre of your eye causing blurred vision.

Symptoms include blurred vision, seeing floaters or flashes, and loss of vision.

The effects of diabetic retinopathy can be different in each eye.


Risk Factors of Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is more common in people with Type 1 diabetes.  Other factors include:

  • Length of diabetes:  Suffers of the disease for less than five years are unlikely to see signs of diabetic retinopathy.  People who have suffered with the disease for over thirty years will almost certainly develop it.
  • Glucose control: Studies have shown that unless glucose is well controlled diabetic retinopathy will occur.  Though a wider study has shown that suffering with diabetes for a long period of time will result in diabetic retinopathy occurring, no matter how well you control your diabetes.
  • High blood pressure:  Should you not bring down your blood pressure, your chances of diabetes retinopathy increase.
  • Nephropathy:  This is kidney disease.  Should this occur as a result of your diabetes then diabetic retinopathy will occur sooner.
  • Pregnancy:  Being diabetic and pregnant can make retinopathy worse.  Especially if glucose control is poor.

Other risk factors include smoking and obesity.


Preventing Diabetic Retinopathy

To keep the condition in check and to prevent it you should:

  • Take regular exercise
  • Control glucose and your blood sugar level including maintaining a healthy diet and medication if required.
  • Lower cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Have regular eye examinations and diabetic retinopathy screening.



Treatment is normally administered should your condition develop into proliferative retinopathy, or your retinopathy has started to affect the macula part of your eye.  A laser is used to seal leaks which have occurred.  This can prevent vision loss though it cannot restore lost vision.

Operations may also be used if your retina has become detached or a bleed has occurred into your vitreous humour.

If you have diabetes or have noticed a change in your vision you should contact us and book an eye examination.