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Diabetic Retinopathy: Facts, Symptoms & Causes

What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?

It’s Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, and the perfect opportunity to learn about a serious condition that can affect diabetics, which left untreated, can lead to vision loss and blindness.

Regular eye examinations for diabetics are important

Diabetic retinopathy is a disease of the part of the eye called the retina. In the early stages of the disease, it may be symptomless, but if left untreated, it can lead to visual impairment and blindness. However, regular eye examinations can pick up signs of the disease that might otherwise remain undetected and therefore help prevent the loss of sight.

Causes Of Diabetic Retinopathy

This diabetic eye disease occurs following damage to the blood vessels of the retina (the light-receiving tissue at the back of the eye).

This damage is caused by an excess amount of sugar in your blood leading to the blockage of the blood vessels that feed the retina, so its blood supply is cut off.

The eye reacts by producing new blood vessels, but these don’t work properly and can leak into the vitreous (a clear gel between the lens and the retina), causing damage.

Symptoms Of Diabetic Retinopathy

The early stages of diabetic retinopathy produce no detectable symptoms.

As the disease develops, you may notice spots in your vision called floaters, blurred vision, vision that comes and goes, diminished colour vision, and even vision loss.

Risk Factors

If you have any type of diabetes, you are at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. This risk is increased if you don’t have good control of your blood sugar levels.

If you are diabetic and also have high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure, your risk is even greater.


Diabetic retinopathy can lead to complications including vitreous haemorrhage where blood leaks into the vitreous, retinal detachment when the retina comes away from the back of the eye, and glaucoma where new blood vessels formed in the front part of the eye exert pressure on it and lead to total vision loss.

How To Treat Diabetic Retinopathy

If your diabetic retinopathy is discovered in the early stages, it is likely that your doctor will simply deploy a “watch and wait” approach. This means that you will need an eye examination every few months to keep track of changes in your eyes.

In the later stages, a number of options are available.

Laser treatment is effective in reducing swelling in your retina by reducing the size of the blood vessels and stopping them from leaking.

Medication such as anti-VEGF drugs or corticosteroids injected directly into the vitreous can reverse or slow down the effects of diabetic retinopathy.

Surgery may be recommended if you have bleeding from your retina, or your eye is badly scarred.

Key Facts

  • If you have diabetes, the most important tip is to have a dilated eye examination on a regular basis – at least once a year. Because diabetic retinopathy exhibits few early symptoms, an examination is vital in catching it in the early stages and making treatment more effective.
  • Keeping your diabetes under control is the best way to prevent the development of diabetic retinopathy. Keep your blood sugar levels under control by following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and taking your diabetes medicine regularly.
  • A healthy lifestyle will also keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control and help reduce the risk of diabetic retinopathy.

Seek expert advice at the George Street Eye Centre in Sydney

If you have concerns about your vision or wish to find out more about our eye services including screening for diabetic retinopathy and laser treatment, give us a call on (02) 9230 0010 or use our online form to contact us at the George Street Eye Centre in Sydney for expert advice.