1. Gattullo, Barbara Ann RN, ANP, BC, CDE, MS
  2. Edelman, Maryann RN, CNS, MS

Article Content

What is diabetic retinopathy?

This is one of the most common eye diseases among people with diabetes. High blood sugar levels and high blood pressure (BP) can damage the tiny vessels (capillaries) in the back of your eye (retina). In some people, fluid leaks through the damaged vessels, injuring the retina and causing loss of vision.


Some signs of a problem with your retina include "floaters" in your field of vision and sharp flashes of light. If you notice these signs, have trouble reading or seeing at night, or develop double vision, contact your eye doctor immediately.


How will my health care provider know I have diabetic retinopathy?

Anyone with diabetes is at higher risk for eye disease, so visit your eye doctor at least once a year for a comprehensive eye exam. If you have diabetic retinopathy, early treatment can help you save your eyesight.


Your eye doctor will use eyedrops to widen (dilate) your pupils so he can see more of the retina, including the small blood vessels and optic nerve. This lets him see how much damage has occurred. He also may perform a test called a fluorescein angiogram. In this test, a special fluid is injected into a vein in your arm. The fluid makes blood vessels in your eye more visible so they can be photographed. The pictures will help your eye doctor choose a treatment plan for you.


How will my diabetic retinopathy be treated?

Your eye doctor may recommend laser photocoagulation, a procedure that can be used to seal off leaking blood vessels in the eye and slow vision loss. Your eye doctor also may prescribe medicine that may help slow down vision loss.


What can I do to reduce my risk of diabetic retinopathy?

Managing your diabetes and keeping your blood sugar and BP under control are the best ways to reduce your risk of diabetic retinopathy. If you already have diabetic retinopathy, controlling your blood sugar will help slow down the disease and help prevent more vision loss. Keep a log of your blood sugar levels and review them with your health care provider.


Be aware of your risk. Get screened not only for retinopathy, but also for other possible complications of diabetes, such as high BP. Have an annual eye exam, and call your eye doctor between exams if you have any problems or questions.


Eat a healthful diet, watch your weight, and exercise according to your health care provider's recommendations. If your cholesterol or BP is too high, follow your health care provider's instructions for bringing them down. Take your medicines as directed.


Finally, if you smoke, stop. Less oxygen reaches the retina when you smoke.