Diabetes-related retinopathy is an eye disease that affects the retina. Anyone with diabetes can develop this condition. Without treatment, diabetes-related retinopathy can lead to vision loss or blindness. But with the right care, you can prevent vision loss and stop disease progression. Call your healthcare provider if you notice any new vision changes.
Diabetes-related retinopathy is an eye condition that weakens the blood vessels in your retina.
There are two types of diabetes-related retinopathy:
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
The retina is a tissue in the back of the eye that sends signal to your brain akin to the film in a camera. The retina converts light rays into electrical impulses that communicate with your brain. These impulses are what enable you to see (vision).
Anyone who has diabetes can get diabetes-related retinopathy, including people who have:
If you have diabetes, risk factors for diabetes-related retinopathy can include:
Diabetes can cause multiple eye diseases including cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetes-related retinopathy which is defined as damage to the retinal vessels of the eye. These damage vessels can lead to poor blood flow (ischemia), inflammation, and ultimately legal blindness if not treated.
In the early stages, most people experience no signs of diabetes-related retinopathy. You may not experience vision changes until the condition is severe. For some people, symptoms come and go.
Symptoms of diabetes-related retinopathy include:
An eye doctor (ophthalmologist) can diagnose diabetes-related retinopathy during a simple exam.
Then, your eye doctor will put drops into your eyes. The drops dilate (widen) your pupils (centers of the eyes).
During this exam, the doctor looks for:
Your healthcare provider will consider several factors when creating a treatment plan, including:
In the early stages of the disease, your healthcare provider may use a wait-and-see approach especially in the setting of good vision. During this phase, you have regular eye exams but don’t need further treatment. Some people need eye exams every two to four months.
Other treatment options include:
If you have diabetes, you can lower your risk of developing diabetes-related retinopathy by:
With timely treatment, you can prevent vision loss and delay diabetes-related retinopathy progression. After diabetes-related retinopathy treatment, you will have the best chance of a positive outcome if you manage your diabetes and keep your blood sugar well-controlled.
People with uncontrolled diabetes have a higher risk of developing eye problems that look similar to diabetes-related retinopathy. Some of these conditions include:
If you have diabetes, it’s important to have an eye exam at least once per year. Pregnant women who have diabetes should schedule an eye exam during their first trimester.
Between eye appointments, call your healthcare provider if you notice:
Anyone who has diabetes has a risk of developing diabetes-related retinopathy. This serious eye condition needs immediate treatment. Without intervention, it can lead to vision loss and even blindness. But timely treatment can prevent vision loss and stop disease progression. The best way to avoid the disease is by managing your diabetes and controlling your blood sugar. Schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider if you notice any new vision changes.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/22/2021.
Learn more about our editorial process.