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Diabetic Retinopathy | Diagnosis and Treatment


Dr. Chris Stelton, MD will conduct a comprehensive eye examination to determine if you have suffered damage to the retina as a result of diabetic retinopathy.  Diabetic eye disease is a major clinical focus of Dr. Stelton and SK Retina.  Dr. Stelton is a consultant for Google on a project focused on the use of eye photography to diagnosis diabetic eye disease in remote locations.

Retina specialists and other eye doctors recommend a routine, yearly screening eye exam for all patients with diabetes to determine if they have any diabetic eye hemorrhages.  When indicated, the blood vessels in the eyes are further imaged with ocular photography, optical coherence tomography (OCT), or fluorescein angiography (FA).


What is the first sign of Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetes damages the blood vessels in the retina.  It usually affects both eyes and can harm patients with both Type I or Type II diabetes.  The longer you have had diabetes, the more likely you are to have diabetic retinopathy.  Patients on insulin are more likely to have diabetic retinopathy.

Unfortunately, diabetic retinopathy often presents without any symptoms.  Many patients with early eye disease are picked up on routine, screening eye exams after being sent to the ophthalmologist by their primary care provider.  In the late stages, patients can complain of blurred vision, fluctuating vision, blind spots, eye floaters, red-tinged vision, or eye pain.


What are the stages of Diabetic Retinopathy?

Retina specialists will use findings from your dilated eye exam to determine the stage of diabetic retinopathy.  The stages follow a predictable pattern and treatment is indicated once you reach the last stage -proliferative disease.

  • None
  • Mild – small areas of balloon-like swelling of retinal blood vessels (microaneurysms)
  • Moderate – more microaneurysms and deeper retinal hemorrhages
  • Severe – pronounced change to eye veins, more severe vascular abnormalities, retinal hemorrhages in all parts of the retina
  • Proliferative – most advanced form of diabetic retinopathy, a low oxygen environment signals the growth of fragile new blood vessel which may leak blood into vitreous cavity

diabetic retinopathy

note the abnormal blood vessels over the surface of the optic nerve and retina, if they bleed the whole eye can fill with blood (i.e. vitreous hemorrhage)


Can you cure Diabetic Retinopathy?

Panretinal photocoagulation (PRP) or eye injections can be used to slow, and often halt, the progression of proliferative diabetic retinopathy.  Vitrectomy or laser eye surgery is often not needed and is reserved for the most advanced cases.  Patients with diabetic eye disease may also have macular edema which is easily treated with painless eye injections.

The best “treatment” for most patients is early detection.  Many patients can avoid the damage that occurs to an eye in the proliferative stages if retinopathy is detected in the early stages.  Your eye doctor will alert your primary care doctor to the need for good blood pressure and blood sugar control when necessary.  As with most eye conditions, the earlier you receive treatment the less likely you will suffer any permanent vision loss from diabetic retinopathy.


Learn More About Diabetic Retinopathy

Macular Edema and Diabetes | Is it Significant or Not?

December 19th, 2017 by Chris Stelton

Macular edema is a serious eye problem in patients with diabetes. Retina specialists are often asked by general ophthalmologists or optometrists to treat the eye complications of diabetes.  One of the most common complications is diabetic macular edema or DME.  Retina specialists use clinical examination in the office to determine if the edema (or swelling)… Read More.

Keeping an eye out for diabetic retinopathy

November 8th, 2016 by Chris Stelton

I gave a talk yesterday at Sarasota Memorial Hospital about diabetic retinopathy. Below are some of the key points from my presentation: Diabetic retinopathy is a serious public health issue.   Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in people of working age in developed countries.  In 2012, nearly 30 million Americans were diagnosed… Read More.

Retina Specialist – Why should I see one?

October 9th, 2016 by Chris Stelton

A retina specialist is a doctor who has specialized in ophthalmology and has sub-specialty training in the medical and surgical treatment of diseases at the back part of the eye. My regular eye doctor sent me to a retinal specialist.  What is a retina specialist? A retinal specialist is an eye physician whose focus is… Read More.

Diabetics can have severe eye disease

October 9th, 2016 by Chris Stelton

WHY DO I NEED A DIABETIC EYE EXAM? A yearly diabetic eye exam is recommended for patients with diabetes. WHAT IS DIABETIC RETINOPATHY? Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that can affect anyone with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.  It is caused by damage to the small blood vessels at the back part of the… Read More.