by / Tuesday, 03 November 2015 / Published in Eye Care

In part 1 of this 3 part series about diabetic eye disease, we will discuss diabetic retinopathy and what you can do to help prevent eye damage and vision loss.


If you have diabetes you probably spend a lot of time maintaining your diet, keeping up with insulin injections, and visiting your doctor. But have you seen your optometrist lately? Diabetes can result in several complications, and one of those is vision loss or blindness. By getting regular eye exams, you can prevent or delay vision loss caused by diabetes.

There are three major eye diseases that result from diabetes, together they are called diabetic eye disease. Diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and cataracts are the three eye diseases that result from complications of diabetes. These eye diseases can occur in people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, so no matter which type you have it is important to see your optometrist regularly, especially since some of these eye diseases don’t have symptoms until vision loss or irreparable damage has occurred. About 40% of people with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy.


Diabetic retinopathy is a direct result, or complication, of diabetes. It occurs when the blood vessels in your eyes begin to leak, or when new blood vessels begin to grow. The leakage and growth occur in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue in your eye that is necessary for sight.

Diabetic retinopathy has four stages. Mild, moderate, and severe nonproliferative retinopathy, and the fourth stage known as proliferative retinopathy. The first three stages result in various degrees of vessel swelling, or in the growth of new vessels. In the very early stages, you may not notice any disturbance in your vision, or experience any discomfort. In these stages, there is no leakage from the vessels, which is why these stages are called nonproliferative. In the most advanced stage, proliferative retinopathy, the new blood vessels growing across the retina have reached a critical point, they are very fragile and can leak blood. You can have proliferative retinopathy and not experience symptoms, but at this stage the danger of blood leakage is high, and once the vessels leak vision loss or blindness occurs.

Another complication from diabetic retinopathy is called macular edema. Macular edema can occur during any stage of diabetic retinopathy, but usually occurs in the final stage of the disease. Macular edema occurs when fluid leaks into the center of the macula. The macula is responsible for straight-ahead vision. The fluid causes the macula to swell, which results in blurry vision.


The most important thing you can do to prevent diabetic retinopathy and protect your vision is to have regular eye exams. The risk of blindness is reduced by 95% when diabetic patients get regular eye exams and have proper follow-up care.

Regular eye exams usually occur once a year, but for diabetic patients it can be helpful to have eye exams more often. Speak with your optometrist to see what kind of eye exam schedule is best for you.

Studies have shown that those that maintain proper blood sugar levels are able to prevent or slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy. Maintaining your diet and keeping your blood sugar levels in a normal range can go a long way to prevent this eye disease.


For more information about diabetic retinopathy and diabetic eye disease please call Redding’s family-focused optometrist, Kristi Davis O.D., at 530-222-7271.