Diabetic Retinopathy

By Neil J. Okun, M.D. Board Certified Ophthalmologist

Diabetes is a disease that affects small blood vessels throughout the body.  The retina is the nerve tissue lining the back of the eye, and it is this nerve tissue that lets us see.  Small blood vessels run through the retina, supplying it with blood. When diabetes affects these retinal vessels, it can affect your vision.

Almost everybody who has diabetes for more than ten years will have some changes visible in the retina.  People often have diabetes for a while before it is diagnosed, and the changes can sometimes show up sooner.

One of the things that can happen in diabetes is that the normal blood vessels in the back of the eye can become leaky, and clear fluid can collect in the retina, making it thick and swollen.  Sometimes fatty material can leak from the vessels, and the retina can accumulate yellow deposits called “exudate.” The macula is a small part of the retina, but it is a very important area because half of the nerve cells live there.  If the retinal swelling or exudate gets too close to the macula, the central vision can become blurred.

If your vision is threatened by (or has been affected by) leakage, there are things the doctor can do to try to dry up the fluid and prevent further visual loss. Treatment, including laser and intravitreal medicine, may also offer hope for visual improvement.

Another way in which diabetes can affect the vision is through poor circulation.  If you develop poor circulation to the eye, this may affect the macula and limit your vision.

A lot can be discovered with a dilated eye exam, and every diabetic patient should have regular checkups to detect retinal changes as early as possible.  Diabetic patients should regularly monitor the vision in each eye, and should seek immediate attention if changes are seen in either eye. Changes are less likely to occur when the blood sugars are well controlled, but even when there has been good control, serious problems can arise.  

Regular eye exams, with prompt treatment, when necessary, offer the best hope for preserving vision. 


Bio: Dr. Okun is a Retina Specialist at Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida. He sees patients in Winter Haven, Haines City, and Sebring.

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