The retina is a layer of cells at the back of your eye that's sensitive to light and sends signals to the brain that allow you to see.
The retina is fed by many small blood vessels. These blood vessels can become damaged in people with diabetes. The vessels can leak blood and damage the retina. Sometimes the damaged vessels grow back abnormally, which can make the problem worse.
Diabetic retinopathy is damage to your retina caused by having diabetes. People with diabetes have high blood sugar. High blood sugar damages blood vessels. Small blood vessels in the kidney and the eye are especially at risk for damage.
Diabetes can damage the blood vessels in the eyes. People with diabetes often also have high blood pressure. High blood pressure can also cause changes to the blood vessels in your eyes that can hurt your retinas.
Without treatment, diabetic retinopathy gets worse the longer you have diabetes. Pregnancy can also make diabetic retinopathy worse.
You may not have symptoms at first, but usually diabetic retinopathy causes:
Later, you may have symptoms such as:
Depending upon the areas of the retina that have been damaged, some people don't have vision loss even when diabetic retinopathy is severe.
To tell if you have diabetic retinopathy, doctors will:
Use an ophthalmoscope (an instrument with a light for looking inside the eye) to look for leaky blood vessels and growth of abnormal new vessels
Give you a shot in your vein of a special dye that helps doctors see the blood vessels in your eye (a procedure called fluorescein angiography)
Take pictures of your retina
Controlling your blood sugar and blood pressure levels is important. Doctors will give you medicine and tell you how a good diet can help control your blood sugar and blood pressure. Other important things for you to do:
Your doctor may also give you:
Laser surgery to stop blood vessels from leaking
Shots in your eye to slow growth of abnormal new blood vessels
Other surgical procedures if the retinopathy causes a lot of bleeding or a detached retina