Diabetic Retinopathy Eye Disease

About Diabetic Retinopathy Eye Disease

Diabetic retinopathy eye disease is a group of eye problems that can happen in people suffering from diabetes and can cause severe vision loss or even blindness. The most common diabetic eye disease is diabetic retinopathy and it is the leading cause of blindness in adults in the U.S. It is caused by changes in the retina’s blood vessels, and in some people with diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels might swell and leak fluid. In other people, abnormal blood vessels grow on the retina’s surface.

There are four stages of diabetic retinopathy. They are:

  • Mild Non-proliferative Retinopathy – In this early stage, there are small areas of balloon-like swelling in the retina's tiny blood vessels called microaneurysms.
  • Moderate Non-proliferative Retinopathy – In this second stage, blood vessels that nourish the retina become blocked.
  • Severe Non-proliferative Retinopathy – In this third stage, many more blood vessels are blocked, and several areas of the retina stop receiving the blood supply they need.
  • Proliferative Retinopathy – At this advanced stage, the signals sent by the retina in the third stage trigger the growth of new blood vessels. These new blood vessels are fragile and break easily or leak blood and can cause severe vision loss and even blindness.

Risk Factors

The main risk factor for diabetic retinopathy is type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The longer a person has diabetes, the more likely they will get diabetic retinopathy in their lifetime. For this reason, everyone with diabetes should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.


Early on, the disease often does not cause any symptoms or pain, so if you have diabetes, you cannot wait for symptoms to appear. Be sure to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year, as early detection and timely treatment can help to prevent vision loss.

In advanced stages, if new blood vessels grow on the retina’s surface, they can bleed into the eye and block vision or cause blurry vision and there may be a few specks of blood visible or spots that seem to "float" in the field of vision.


Diabetic retinopathy can be detected during a comprehensive eye exam. This includes:

  • Visual Acuity Test – This test uses an eye chart to measure vision at various distances.
  • Dilated Eye Exam – Drops are used to widen or dilate the pupils, and then a unique magnifying lens is used to examine the retina and optic nerve.
  • Tonometry – A special instrument measures the pressure inside the eye.
  • Fluorescein Angiogram – A special dye is injected into the, and pictures are taken as the dye passes through the blood vessels in the retina to see any leaking blood vessels to decide how to treat them.

Treatments We Offer

To prevent diabetic retinopathy from getting worse, people with diabetes should control their blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol. In later stages of the disease, treatment options depend on the type of diabetic retinopathy. Columbia ophthalmologists offer many treatment options that include:

  • Pharmacotherapy – This treatment involves injections of drugs into the eye to block the chemical substances that cause blood vessels to leak and bleed. They are highly effective in improving the sight and preventing blinding complications of diabetic retinopathy
  • Scatter Laser Treatment – This helps to shrink abnormal blood vessels. Scatter laser treatment works better before the fragile, new blood vessels have started to bleed. That is why it is important to have regular, comprehensive dilated eye exams.
  • Vitrectomy – This is a surgical procedure for people with severe bleeding. During a vitrectomy, the doctor removes blood from the center of the eye.
  • Focal Laser Treatment – This is laser surgery for people with macular edema. The laser slows fluid leakage and reduces the amount of fluid in the retina. Focal laser treatment not only preserves vision, but it reduces the risk of vision loss by 50 percent. 

Laser surgery and good follow-up care can significantly reduce the risk of blindness by Columbia ophthalmologists. However, laser surgery cannot usually restore vision that has already been lost. That is why treating diabetic retinopathy early is the best way to prevent vision loss.

Why Choose Columbia?

Columbia offers the most effective and least invasive treatment for preserving the sight of the patients with diabetes. Close collaboration of the retina physicians with patients’ medical doctors ensures treatment of diabetes as a disease not affecting only the eye but the whole body. Columbia retina specialists  are proud to offer some of the most advanced medical and surgical treatments available for retinal conditions. Our retinal specialists are some of the most experienced physicians in the world.