Diabetic retinopathy is a potentially vision-threatening complication of diabetes. It occurs when diabetes damages the fine blood vessels within the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. A healthy retina is essential for good vision.
Early diabetic retinopathy usually does not cause any symptoms and often does not require treatment. If the diabetic retinopathy progresses, there is a risk of developing new abnormal blood vessels that can leak blood into the eye. Initially this causes specks or spots of blood to “float” in the vision but more serious bleeding can cause significant vision loss. The risk of developing vision-threatening diabetic retinopathy increases with longer duration of diabetes and poor glucose control. In the advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy, treatment options include laser, special medication that is injected into the eye under local anaesthetic, or surgery. Because diabetic retinopathy does not always present with symptoms it is important for diabetic patients to be regularly screened by their eyecare practitioner.
Diabetic macular oedema (DME) is another complication of diabetes that can affect vision. In this condition, blood and fluid leaks into the macula, the small central area located at the back of the eye responsible for providing detailed, “straight-ahead” vision. As a result, central vision can gradually become distorted and blurred. Early detection and treatment is critical for recovering and maintaining a good level of vision.