Diabetic Retinopathy: Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment

Image of a scenic overlook, obscured by several dark spots. Example of vision with diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition that causes floaters, flashes of light, vision loss, and blindness in people who have diabetes. Uncontrolled blood sugar damages the blood vessels in the retina (the light-sensitive layer of tissue in the back of the eye), which stimulates the growth of new, abnormal vessels that can leak or even form scar tissue that can tear or detach the retina. It also causes ischemia, or lack of oxygen to the retinal tissues, which can cause the nerves to die and damage vision.

Signs and Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy


If you have diabetes, it’s essential to get a comprehensive eye exam with dilation at least once a year to avoid potential vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy may not have any symptoms at first, but early diagnosis and treatment can protect your vision. Early symptoms include blurriness, floaters, dark visual fields, and distorted vision.

If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness.

Prevention Tips for Diabetic Retinopathy


Managing your blood sugar is the best way to lower your risk of diabetic retinopathy. Here are a few things you can do to maintain healthy blood sugar levels:

    • Move more, sit less
      Adults should aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day, five days a week. This can include brisk walking, hiking, swimming, and cycling.
    • Eat the rainbow
      Stockpile your fridge and pantry with a colorful selection of fresh fruits, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free (or low-fat) milk products and include a variety of lean proteins.
  • Follow all medical instructions for your insulin and other diabetes medicines.
    Take insulin and other diabetes medicines as prescribed and schedule a routine A1C test to monitor your blood sugar levels over time.

Treatment Options for Diabetic Retinopathy


Watchful waiting combined with frequent dilated eye exams (every 2 to 4 months) is generally recommended in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. However, in later stages, it’s essential to start treatment right away to prevent further vision loss. Treatment options include:

  • Injections
    Anti-VEGF or corticosteroids are injected into the white of the eye to block the protein that damages blood vessels and swelling in the retina. Most people require monthly injections for at least the first three months of treatment to alleviate symptoms.
  • Laser treatment
    Scatter laser surgery (pan-retinal photocoagulation) can be used to treat advanced cases of diabetic retinopathy. This technique shrinks the blood vessels in the eye, stops them from leaking, and reduces swelling in the retina.
  • Surgery
    If you have bleeding in the retina or excessive scar tissue in the eye, your doctor may recommend a vitrectomy. The gel-like substance inside the eye is drained during this procedure, allowing your doctor to clear any lingering blood and remove scar tissue.

You can alleviate many early symptoms of diabetic retinopathy through proper diabetes management and healthy lifestyle changes. However, if you’re experiencing ongoing or worsening vision loss, don’t hesitate to schedule an eye exam with Eye Specialists of Louisiana. Our experienced ophthalmologists can help alleviate your symptoms and prevent further vision loss with innovative, state-of-the-art treatments. For more information, please call 255-768-7777.