Diabetic Retinopathy


Diabetic retinopathy occurs when high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels supplying the retina, leading to leakage of fluid and swelling of the retina (macular oedema). This swelling causes blurred central vision.  

Additionally, abnormal blood vessels can form on the surface of the retina, leading to bleeding into the eye and sudden visual loss. The duration of diabetes is a strong risk factor for diabetic retinopathy, and it is important for diabetic patients to have regular eye examinations. 



Injections of anti-VEGF (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor) medication into the eye can be used to treat swelling of the retina. These medications reduce the leakiness of retinal blood vessels, often stabilising or improving vision. 

 Retinal laser can also be used to improve retinal swelling, and also reduce the growth of abnormal blood vessels on the surface of the retina. 



Why does diabetic retinopathy affect my vision? 

Diabetes affects the blood vessels of the body, including the eye, causing damage, leakiness and reduce oxygen supply. The most common cause of visual disturbance in diabetic retinopathy is swelling of the central retina (macular oedema) caused by leakage of fluid from the small blood vessels supplying the retina. This causes blurred vision and reduced clarity.  

In severe cases, a lack of oxygen to the retina can cause new blood vessels to form on the surface of the retina. Bleeding from these abnormal blood vessels can cause sudden visual loss.  


My sugars are well controlled now, why do I still have diabetic retinopathy? 

Unfortunately, one of the biggest risk factors for the development of diabetic retinopathy is the duration from onset of diabetes. Damage to retinal blood vessels is accumulated over time, and diabetic retinopathy can still occur from previous sub-optimal diabetic control. Regardless, one of the most important ways to reduce the risk of developing complications from diabetic retinopathy is to ensure your blood sugars are well controlled. 


I have diabetes but don’t have any issues with my vision, why do I still need to get them checked? 

One of the biggest risk factors for developing diabetic retinopathy is the duration of diabetes. At its early stages, diabetic retinopathy does not usually affect your vision, however it is important to recognise if you have diabetic retinopathy so it can be monitored before visual issues arise. Once diabetic retinopathy starts to affect your vision it can often we quite advanced and more difficult to treat. 


I have diabetic retinopathy and have now developed a cataract. Will the diabetic retinopathy affect my cataract surgery?  

Cataract surgery has been found to worsen diabetic retinopathy. It is important that any diabetic retinopathy is recognised prior to surgery and treated appropriately. For example, swelling of the retina (macular oedema) should be treated prior to cataract surgery to ensure it doesn’t worsen postoperatively and lead to sub-optimal vision. In certain cases, cataract surgery can be combined with intravitreal injections to minimise the risk of postoperative retinal swelling (macular oedema).