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Diabetic Retinopathy

​This is a disease of the retina (the nerve layer lining the back of the eye) resulting from the effects of diabetes on its blood vessels. It is the leading cause of blindness in people between the ages of 20-60 years of age. There are mainly three types of diabetic retinopathy:

Background diabetic retinopathy

This type is very common in people who have had diabetes for a long time. At this stage the vision is normal and the blood vessels of the retina is mildly affected.

Diabetic maculopathy

Diabetes can cause the blood vessles of the retina to leak fluid and protein. This causes the retina to swell and if the swelling involves the centre of the retina (the macula), vision will blur.

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy

As the condition progresses, the retinal blood vessels become blocked and this can lead to the development of new vessels. These new vessels are abnormal and fragile; they may rupture and bleed in the eye, this is called vitreous haemorrhage and causes sudden loss of vision. In more advanced cases scar tissue develops. This scarring pulls and distorts the retina and may even cause retinal detachment and a more severe loss of vision.

Laser treatment

Laser treatment to the points of leakage for diabetic maculopathy can decrease the swelling and stabilise vision. More extensive laser treatment in the early stages of proliferative retinopathy can cause the abnormal blood vessels to regress preventing more severe complications from developing. However laser treatment is not without side effects. Some patients may experience a decrease in vision to the sides (peripheral vision). Night and colour vision may also be affected.


In some diabetic patients the disease progresses despite laser treatment, leading to persistent bleeding in the eye or retinal detachment. Vision then continues to deteriorate. In such severe cases, surgery such as vitrectomy may be required.

Injection of medication inside the eye

Recently studies showed that injecting some medication (e.g. Triamcinolone, antiVEGF) inside the eye may help to maintain or improve vision in some people with diabetic retinopathy.

How can I prevent or delay Diabetic Retinopathy?

Many studies show that tight control of your blood sugar, as well as keeping your blood pressure and blood cholesterol within normal limits have a major positive effect on your diabetic retinopathy.
Why do I need an annual eye examination?

It is important for patients diagnosed with diabetes to have eye screenings early in order to detect diabetic retinopathy. If diabetic retinopathy is not detected or treatment is not needed after the initial examination, it is equally important that diabetic patients follow up regularly with their eye surgeons as diabetic retinopathy may appear or progress with time.

Early treatment gives a good chance of maintaining vision throughout life. Without treatment, the risk of blindness is high.

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