InSight #1: Diabetic Retinopathy

What is it?

Diabetic Retinopathy is an eye condition where elevated blood sugar levels cause blood vessels in the eye to swell and leak into the retina. 

Without treatment, it can result in uncorrectable vision loss or even blindness.  However, with regular, comprehensive eye exams by your eye doctor, it can be detected early and treated.


In the early stages of Diabetic Retinopathy, there are often no symptoms and your vision still may not be affected.

People with proliferative retinopathy or macular edema may experience vision loss when blood from leaking blood vessels blocks the field of vision.  However, at this stage, if is still possible to have no noticeable symptoms, or for symptoms to occur suddenly with no apparent warning.

That is why it is so crucial for people living with diabetes to see their eye doctor regularly for comprehensive eye exams.  The earlier diabetic retinopathy is detected, the better the chance that it can be effectively treated and further vision loss prevented.

Visit your eye doctor without delay if you notice:

· Dark spots in your visual field.

· Blurred, distorted, or double vision.

· Large “floaters” - specks in the form of dots, circles, lines, or cobwebs that move across your field of vision.

Prevention & Risk Factors

Everyone with diabetes is at a risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, but there are certain factors the increase this risk.  Some of these factors of can be controlled of course, but others cannot.

Uncontrollable Risk Factors:

· Type of diabetes:  People with Type 1 diabetes are more likely to experience vision loss sooner.

· Ethnicity:  Aboriginal Canadians are three to five times more likely than the general population to develop Type 2 diabetes, placing them at a much higher risk of developing vision problems related to diabetes.

Controllable Risk Factors:

· High blood sugar:  Target ranges for blood sugar levels are dependant upon age, medical condition, and other risk factors.  Ask you doctor what your levels should be.

· Smoking:  Smoking increases your risk of vision loss when you have diabetes.  It also increases blood pressure and blood sugar levels, making it harder to control your diabetes.

· High blood pressure and cholesterol:  If you have diabetes and high blood pressure and/or high lipid (fat) levels, you are more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy.

More Information

 If you would like more information on diabetic retinopathy, talk to your eyecare professional or check out the following online resources available to you. 

  • CNIB
  • Canadian Opthalmological Society
  • Canadian Association of Optometrists