Diabetic Retinopathy

Appointment New Patient Appointment or 214-645-2020

UT Southwestern Medical Center's ophthalmologists specialize in treating diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that affects vision. From performing annual eye exams to medically and surgically treating the most complex cases of this condition, we work to prevent its progression. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can cause severe vision loss or even blindness.

Multidisciplinary Care for Diabetic Eye Conditions 

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes that involves damage to blood vessels in the retina (inner layer at the back of the eye). High blood sugar levels cause swelling, leaking, blockage, or abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina, which affects vision.

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss for people with diabetes and the leading cause of vision problems and blindness in adults of working age (21 through 64).

UT Southwestern ophthalmologists work closely with endocrinologists, which are specialists who manage and treat hormone conditions such as diabetes. Endocrinologists can help people properly control their blood sugar levels to prevent diabetic retinopathy.

Causes and Risk Factors for Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes causes chronically high blood sugar, which in turn can cause damage to blood vessels in the retina. The damage causes vision loss and can lead to blindness. 

People with any kind of diabetes (Type 1, Type 2, or gestational) can develop retinopathy. Factors that can increase the risk of developing the condition include:

  • Length of time with diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Poorly controlled blood sugar levels
  • Smoking

Diabetic Retinopathy Symptoms

People who have diabetic retinopathy might not notice symptoms until damage to the eyes becomes severe. That's why it's important for anyone with diabetes to have regular eye exams, to check for early signs of any problems.

When symptoms do appear, they include:

  • Blurred vision and gradual vision loss over time
  • Floaters
  • Poor night vision
  • Shadows or blind spots in the field of vision

Diagnosing Diabetic Retinopathy

Our ophthalmologists begin their evaluation with a comprehensive medical eye exam. Some of the tests we might perform include:

  • Vision test
  • Dilated eye test to examine the retina and optic nerve
  • Tonometry, a painless test that measures pressure inside the eye
  • Slit-lamp exam to look at the retina
  • Optical coherence tomography to measure the retina's thickness and to check for swelling
  • Fluorescein angiography to examine blood vessels in the retina for damage or abnormal growth

Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy

In its early stages, diabetic retinopathy might require only monitoring by an eye specialist with experience in treating diabetic eye disease. As the condition progresses, treatment options include:

  • Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) therapy: Medications that reduce blood vessel growth and swelling in the retina
  • Steroid therapy: Corticosteroid medications that reduce the inflammation associated with diabetic retinopathy
  • Laser surgery: Minimally invasive procedure to seal off or shrink blood vessels to reduce swelling
  • Vitrectomy: Microsurgery to remove vitreous and blood from leaking vessels and replace the vitreous with saline or another artificial substance