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What is diabetic retinopathy?


More people than ever have diabetes and more people than ever are at risk of Type 2 diabetes. If current trends continue more than five million of us will have diabetes in the UK by 2025.  

How diabetes can affect the eyes

The retina is the light-sensitive layer of cells at the back of the eye that converts light into electrical signals. The signals are sent to the brain and the brain turns them into the images you see. 

The retina needs a constant supply of blood, which it receives through a network of tiny blood vessels. Over time, a persistently high blood sugar level can damage these blood vessels in three main stages: 

  • tiny bulges develop in the blood vessels, which may bleed slightly but don’t usually affect your vision – this is known as background retinopathy
  • more severe and widespread changes affect the blood vessels, including more significant bleeding into the eye – this is known as pre-proliferative retinopathy
  • scar tissue and new blood vessels, which are weak and bleed easily, develop on the retina – this is known as proliferative retinopathy and it can result in some loss of vision

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes which causes damage to the retina. 

In its early stages, diabetic retinopathy does not usually display any noticeable symptoms, so you may not even know you have it. 

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy 

  • gradually worsening vision
  • sudden vision loss
  • shapes floating in your field of vision (floaters)
  • blurred or patchy vision
  • eye pain or redness

Screening can detect the condition before you notice any change in your vision. When it is detected early enough, management of the condition can stop it getting worse. Otherwise, by the time symptoms become noticeable, it can be much more difficult to treat so if you are a diabetic it is important to have regular eye check-ups. 

Book an eye test