Frequently Asked Questions

Here’s a list of frequently asked questions about diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema, their causes, symptoms, and treatments.

How can I take care of my eye health during an event like the COVID-19 pandemic?

Even during challenging times, it’s very important to make eye health a priority. If you have diabetes, or have been diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy (DR) or diabetic macular edema (DME), make sure to stay in touch with your retina specialist and to follow their recommendations and treatment plan. If you experience any changes in your vision, call your retina specialist immediately.

Diabetic Retinopathy

How and why does diabetes impact the eyes?

Diabetes causes your body to have problems regulating blood sugar levels, which can lead to excess blood sugar in the body. Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage many organs in the body—including the eyes.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is a complication of diabetes that causes changes to the blood vessels of the retina, the part of your eye that senses light and sends signals to your brain. DR can progress and it may cause vision problems and vision loss.

What causes diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy can occur when high blood sugar levels from diabetes affect the retinal blood vessels in the retina. Over time, the vessels can get swollen, blocked, and/or leak fluid or bleed, and the retina does not get enough of the oxygen and nutrients it needs because not enough blood is reaching it.

Does everybody with diabetes have a risk of developing diabetic retinopathy?

Anyone with any type of diabetes is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, and the risk for this retinal disease increases the longer you have diabetes. The risk is also higher if blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol are not controlled. More than 2 in 5 U.S. adults with diagnosed diabetes have diabetic retinopathy.

Are there other factors that increase the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy?

Other factors that increase the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy in people with diabetes include age, high A1C, smoking, high cholesterol and triglycerides, and high blood pressure.

Keep in mind that even if your A1C level is under control, diabetic retinopathy can still progress. That’s why it’s so important to get your eyes checked annually, or as often as your eye care professional recommends.

What are the different stages of diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a progressive condition, which means it can get worse over time. The stages of diabetic retinopathy are mild non-proliferative, moderate non-proliferative, severe non-proliferative, and proliferative. View more information here.

What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy may not have any visual symptoms or changes at first. It’s possible to have this retinal disease for a long time with no symptoms until there’s substantial damage to the eyes. When symptoms do appear, they may include blurriness around the edges of vision, difficulty reading, or seeing an increase in “floaters” in one or both eyes (it’s important to know that floaters can be signs of eye conditions not related to diabetes). You can view what symptoms may appear like here.

How is diabetic retinopathy diagnosed?

To diagnose diabetic retinopathy, eye care professionals perform eye exams. During these exams, they use special instruments and techniques to look for signs of DR, including abnormal retinal blood vessels, signs of bad circulation, scar tissue, swelling, and more.

How do I know if I have diabetic retinopathy?

Visiting an eye care professional and getting tested is the only way to know if you have diabetic retinopathy. Because anyone living with diabetes is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, it’s recommended that you get your eyes checked by an eye care professional as soon as you are diagnosed with diabetes, and annually after that—or as often as your eye care professional recommends.

How soon do I need to have my eyes checked if I have diabetes?

If you have diabetes, regardless of how recently you’ve been diagnosed, it’s very important to get your eyes checked by an eye care professional—and do it regularly. People with diabetes can have diabetic retinopathy with no symptoms until there’s vision-threatening damage, but early detection, routine monitoring, and potential treatment could help against vision loss.

Can diabetic retinopathy cause blindness?

Yes, diabetic retinopathy is a serious condition that can cause blindness. In fact, it is the most frequent cause of new cases of blindness in working-age U.S. adults. Early detection, routine monitoring, and potential treatment could help reduce the risk.

How fast does diabetic retinopathy progress, and can progression be slowed?

The progression of diabetic retinopathy is different from person to person, but factors that can make it advance more quickly are poor blood sugar control, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Good control of those factors, along with diabetic retinopathy treatment as directed by a retina specialist, may help slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy.

Can the severity of diabetic retinopathy be reduced?

Although there’s no cure for it, some treatment options may help in reducing the severity of this retinal disease in some people.

How can I reduce the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy?

If you are diabetic, you can reduce your risk for developing diabetic retinopathy by managing your diabetes as directed by your primary care doctor and avoiding smoking. It’s also important to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam, at least once every year, or as often as your eye care professional recommends.

Diabetic Macular Edema

What is diabetic macular edema?

Diabetic macular edema (DME) is a complication of diabetic retinopathy. It happens when the macula—the area of the retina that gives you sharp central vision—swells with fluid leaked from damaged blood vessels. DME can happen at any stage of diabetic retinopathy, and can lead to vision loss. About half of people with diabetic retinopathy develop DME.

Does diabetic retinopathy lead to diabetic macular edema?

Yes, diabetic retinopathy (DR) can lead to other serious eye conditions, including diabetic macular edema (DME). About half of people with DR will develop DME.

What are the symptoms of diabetic macular edema?

The symptoms of diabetic macular edema can include blurriness in the center of vision, straight lines that look wavy, and colors that look dull or washed out. View here.

Treatment

How is diabetic retinopathy treated?

Treatment for diabetic retinopathy (DR) depends on the severity of the condition. In the early stages of non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, careful monitoring and diabetes management might be the only treatment. As DR advances, retina specialists look at other treatment options.

What kind of eye care specialist treats diabetic retinopathy?

Ophthalmologists and retina specialists are the eye care specialists that treat diabetic retinopathy. Retina specialists receive additional training in treating diseases of the retina, and can provide all diabetic retinopathy treatment options currently available. It is important to remember that managing your diabetes as advised by your primary care doctor is a key part of the treatment process.

Potential Impact of Diabetic Retinopathy and Diabetic Macular Edema

How could diabetic retinopathy impact my life?

Depending on its severity, diabetic retinopathy can impact people’s lives, not only for patients but also for those around them. The vision changes that result from diabetic retinopathy can make driving difficult, especially at night, and can make it hard to read. This may cause you to rely on others for support, which could affect your independence. As diabetic retinopathy advances, vision loss can keep people from working and reading, and when it’s severe it can take away the ability to do diabetes care activities like exercising, blood sugar testing, insulin injections, and more.

How could diabetic macular edema affect my life?

Depending on how severe it is, diabetic macular edema (DME) can impact people’s lives, not only for patients but also for those around them. DME can affect your vision and therefore your ability to read, write, drive, recognize faces, and more. It can also lead to permanent vision loss and, in some cases, even blindness.

Where can I get support if I am losing my vision because of diabetic retinopathy?

Some organizations offer resources and free materials and list support agencies for people living with low vision. Visit our resources page for more information.