Treating Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy can lead to vision loss or blindness in people with diabetes. It affects the blood vessels in your retina. This is a light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye. Treatment may help slow the progress of diabetic retinopathy. Your treatment plan depends on your condition. Pregnancy is one condition where diabetic retinopathy needs to be monitored most closely. You may need frequent exams. This is to watch for changes. You may also need laser treatment and other procedures.

Watching your vision

At first, your healthcare provider may simply want to monitor your vision changes. In some cases, you may also have tests done. These may include:

  • An angiogram. This test uses a special dye to make detailed images of the retina. These images help your provider decide if you need special treatments.

  • Ocular coherence tomography (OCT) testing. This uses light waves to see if fluid is leaking into some parts of the eye. It can also look at the thickness of the retina.

  • Photos of your retina. These can show any changes in your retina since your last checkup.

  • Dilated eye exam. You'll be given eye drops to widen (dilate) your pupils. Then you'll be checked for diabetic retinopathy and other eye problems.

Types of treatment

Side view of eye showing lens on front of eye. Laser light is focusing on inside back wall of eye.
Laser is one type of treatment that may help limit vision loss from diabetic retinopathy.

Special treatments can help stop bleeding. They can also slow or stop new vessel growth. And they can save vision and even make it better. The type of treatment you get depends on your condition:

  • Laser treatment. This can reduce swelling and help stop leaks. It can also limit abnormal vessel growth.

  • Surgery. This can remove a gel-like fluid inside the eye (the vitreous). Or it can fix a retina damaged by scar tissue. This may help if the vitreous gets filled with blood. This makes it hard to see.

  • Medicines injected in the eye. These can help decrease swelling of the retina. They can also slow the abnormal growth of blood vessels. 

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