What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?

Josh Johnston
Diabetic retinopathy is a vascular disease which causes leakage of blood vessels in the retina. It is common for a small amount of blood, lipid, or other fluid to leak from the blood vessels. These can resolve over time, but if large enough or if they occur in a critical area like the macula, patients can notice blurred vision. Most times diabetic retinopathy will present with no symptoms at all so a yearly dilated eye exam with an optometrist or ophthalmologist is mandatory for all diabetic patients.  
There are often no symptoms in the early stages of disease. As the disease progresses blurred vision can occur, or if it becomes more serious, vision loss can occur.
The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy are a little misleading, because sometimes there are no symptoms at all. Watch this video to learn more from Dr. Manvi Maker about the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy.
Jeffrey S. Heier, MD
The following are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy -- which occurs when abnormal blood sugar levels damage small blood vessels in the retina (the innermost layer of the eye):
  • Blurred vision
  • Fluctuating vision
  • Distorted vision
  • Floating spots
In the nonproliferative stage of diabetic retinopathy, there may be no symptoms if the problem is mild. But as the problem becomes more severe, macular edema may develop. This can cause a noticeable decline in central vision, especially as the swelling increases. An eye exam can detect even the earliest changes, such as:
  • Leaking blood vessels
  • Retinal swelling (macular edema)
  • Fatty deposits on the retina
  • Damaged nerve tissue
  • Small, balloon-like abnormalities known as microaneurysms
Often, there are no symptoms in the early stages of the disease, nor is there any pain. Don't wait for symptoms. Be sure to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.

Blurred vision may occur when the macula-the part of the retina that provides sharp central vision-swells from leaking fluid. This condition is called macular edema.

If new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina, they can bleed into the eye and block vision.

This answer is based on source information from National Eye Institute.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.