Diabetic Retinopathy – What is it? How do I prevent it?

2018-04-17 | By Orcam Staff

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Diabetic Retinopathy - What is it? How do I prevent it? - OrCam

When one thinks of diabetes, one generally thinks of sugar intake. Don’t eat too many sweets, or you may develop diabetes. That’s the general (and only) conception of diabetes. That and needles. People do not realize, that with diabetes can come something much worse than needles; blindness/visual impairment, caused by diabetic retinopathy (DR). Here are the stats: DR is the leading global cause of vision loss. One-third of the estimated 285 million people with diabetes worldwide have signs of DR. One third of those with signs of DR, is vision-threatening DR. About 20% of newly diagnosed Type 2 diabetics show symptoms of diabetic retinopathy. That number jumps nearly four times the amount, to about 80% after 15 years. But what exactly is diabetic retinopathy? How does it affect eyesight?

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is, simply put, a diabetes complication which affects the eyes. Read on for its symptoms, causes, risk factors, and prevention of DR.

Two children with spots blocking the view, showing what it's like with diabetic
A scene as it might be viewed by a person with diabetic retinopathy.

A scene as it might be viewed by a person with diabetic retinopathy.

What are the causes of diabetic retinopathy?

Too much sugar in your blood over time can cause this condition. How, you might ask? It can cause the blockage of blood vessels that nourish the retina. This, in turn, cuts off its blood supply. Due to this, the eye attempts to create new blood vessels, however, they don’t properly form. This leads to one of the following:

Early DR

This is the more common form of the condition. In this form, no new blood vessels are growing. It is called nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR). The walls of blood vessels in your retina weaken, and microaneurysms jut out from walls of the smaller vessels. This can cause fluid and blood leakage into the retina. It can become more severe as more blood vessels are blocked.

Advanced DR

In this type of diabetic retinopathy, damaged blood vessels close off. This causes the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the retina, which can leak into your eye. This growth can cause scar tissue to form. In turn, this can cause the retina to detach from the back of your eye. Pressure can then build up in the eyeball. This can damage the optic nerve, which may result in glaucoma.

What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?

During the early stages, there may be no symptoms. Most of the time, both eyes are affected. The symptoms may include:

  • Vision loss
  • Blurred or fluctuating vision
  • Floaters
  • Empty or dark areas in your line of sight
  • Impaired color vision


2 different eyes. One zoomed in to show the effects of diabetic retinopathy the blood vessels in the eye.
What diabetic retinopathy does to a person’s eye.

What diabetic retinopathy does to a person’s eye.

Prevention of diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy cannot always be prevented, but there are definitely things one can do which help. Getting regular eye exams can definitely help, as well as maintaining control over your blood pressure and sugar levels.

How to reduce the risk of  the DR (for those already with diabetes):

  • Be aware of any vision changes
  • Monitor sugar levels
  • Quit smoking
  • Control your blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Stay on top of managing your diabetes
  • Take a glycosylated hemoglobin test

What are the risk factors of having diabetic retinopathy?

The following can increase the risk of DR:

  • Smoking
  • Being pregnant
  • High blood pressure
  • Not properly controlling your sugar level
  • High cholesterol
  • The length of time in which you have been diabetic

Blindness caused by DR can be difficult to handle. It drastically affects the life of anyone suffering from it. There is no cure, only prevention, and treatment. Devices such as the OrCam MyEye can help those suffering from it at least retain some of their independence.