Diabetic Retinopathy

People with diabetes can have an eye disease called diabetic retinopathy. This is when high blood sugar levels cause damage to blood vessels in the retina. These blood vessels can swell and leak. Or they can close, stopping blood from passing through. Sometimes abnormal new blood vessels grow on the retina. All of these changes can steal your vision.

Stages of diabetic eye disease

NPDR (non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy): This is the early stage of diabetic eye disease. Many people with diabetes have it.

With NPDR, tiny blood vessels leak, making the retina swell. When the macula swells, it is called macular edema. This is the most common reason why people with diabetes lose their vision.

Also with NPDR, blood vessels in the retina can close off. This is called macular ischemia. When that happens, blood cannot reach the macula. Sometimes tiny particles called exudates can form in the retina. These can affect your vision too.

Non-Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy Vision Simulator

PDR (proliferative diabetic retinopathy): PDR is the more advanced stage of diabetic eye disease. It happens when the retina starts growing new blood vessels. This is called neovascularization. These fragile new vessels often bleed into the vitreous. If they only bleed a little, you might see a few dark floaters. If they bleed a lot, it might block all vision.

These new blood vessels can form scar tissue. Scar tissue can cause problems with the macula or lead to a detached retina.

PDR is very serious, and can steal both your central and peripheral (side) vision

Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy Vision Simulator


Your treatment is based on what your ophthalmologist sees in your eyes. Treatment options may include:

Medical control

Controlling your blood sugar and blood pressure can stop vision loss. Carefully follow the diet your nutritionist has recommended. Take the medicine your diabetes doctor prescribed for you. Sometimes, good sugar control can even bring some of your vision back. Controlling your blood pressure keeps your eye’s blood vessels healthy.


“anti-VEGF” medication. This helps to reduce swelling of the macula, slowing vision loss and perhaps improving vision. This drug is given by injections (shots) in the eye. Steroid medicine is another option to reduce macular swelling. This is also given as injections in the eye. Your doctor will recommend how many medication injections you will need over time.

Intravitreal drug delivery has become a popular method of treatment of many retinal diseases, commonly including AMD, Diabetic Retinopathy, and Retinal Vein Occlusions.  The frequency of intravitreal injections has significantly increased since the introduction of Anti-VEGF medications.  This is an important procedure that Retina Specialists use on a daily basis, and it is important to master the techniques of effective injections for patient safety and reduction of complications.  

Benefits of Intravitreal Injections depend on the ocular pathology being treated, but mainly include improvement of vision or prevention of worsening of the vision (in the case of AMD or DR).  In the case of an infection, the benefit is direct delivery of the antibiotic/antifungal into the eye close to the nidus of the infection. 

Laser surgery

Laser surgery might be used to help seal off leaking blood vessels. This can reduce swelling of the retina. Laser surgery can also help shrink blood vessels and prevent them from growing again. Sometimes more than one treatment is needed.


If you have advanced PDR, your ophthalmologist may recommend surgery called vitrectomy. Your ophthalmologist removes vitreous gel and blood from leaking vessels in the back of your eye. This allows light rays to focus properly on the retina again. Scar tissue also might be removed from the retina.