What’s Diabetic Eye? Diabetic Retinopathy Stages, Diagnosis and More

Diabetes is a major cause of kidney failure, blindness, stroke, heart attacks, and lower limb amputation. In fact, it’s one of the leading causes of death in the United States!

A metabolic disorder, it occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or isn’t able to use it efficiently. As a result, blood sugar level rises, which can lead to various consequences.

For example, it can result in diabetic retinopathy, a complication that affects the tissues at the back of the eye.

Want to learn more about the different diabetic retinopathy stages? If so, you’re on the right page!

We’ll be going over everything that you need to know about the topic below. Keep reading to learn more!

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when there is damage to the retina—the thin layer of nerves at the back of the eye. More specifically, it affects the blood vessels, which go into the tissue.

It can develop if you have a long history of uncontrolled diabetes (type 1 or type 2). Left untreated, it can lead to other serious eye problems such as diabetic macular ischemia and neovascular glaucoma.

Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

Most people will not experience any symptoms during the early stages. It isn’t until after there’s major damage to the retina, that they’ll start to notice that something is wrong.

When symptoms appear, they generally affect both eyes. For example, an individual might have difficulty seeing at night, blurred vision, or difficulty distinguishing colors. Dark spots might also appear in their field of vision.

What Causes Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when there are high levels of sugar in the blood for a long time. Ultimately, it’s this excess sugar that causes damage to the blood vessels.

As a result, the retina will not receive adequate blood supply. This triggers the growth of other blood vessels in the vicinity.

Compared to the other ones, however, they’re much weaker. There’s a high chance that they’ll leak and create scar tissue, which can result in a loss of vision.

Diagnosing Diabetic Retinopathy

Doctors are able to check for diabetic retinopathy with a dilated eye exam. A simple process, it involves the use of eye drops to dilate the pupils—this allows them to get a good look at the inside of your eye.

They’ll check to see if there are any abnormal blood vessels, scarring, swelling, and changes to the nerve tissue.

In some cases, they might also perform a fluorescein angiography test. This will let them determine whether or not the blood vessels are getting enough blood flow.

Diabetic Retinopathy Stages

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that develops in stages. We’ll be describing them below:

Stage 1: Background Retinopathy

This stage is characterized by microaneurysms in the blood vessels at the back of the eye. While there might be small leaks, it will not have any effect on your vision.

While you won’t need treatment, you’ll want to take care to prevent the condition from getting worse. Assuming that it affects both eyes, the chance of it progressing to later stages within 3 years is over 25 percent.

Stage 2: Pre-proliferative Retinopathy

In this stage, there are widespread changes to the retina. For example, some blood vessels might be blocked. In addition to that, there might be balloon-like swelling in the area.

At this point, there’s a high risk that your sight will be affected. While treatment is not necessary, you will need frequent appointments to monitor the condition of your eyes.

Stage 3: Proliferative Retinopathy

This advanced stage is characterized by the growth of new blood vessels. Incredibly fragile, they will grow along the retina and surface of the eye.

Due to their thin walls, it’s highly likely that they’ll leak, which can result in severe vision loss.

Treatment will be necessary to stabilize your vision. However, it won’t be possible to reverse any damage that’s already been done.

Treating Diabetic Retinopathy

Treatment is not necessary for those with early diabetic retinopathy. With that said, it’s a good idea to go for regular eye exams—that way, your doctor will be able to monitor for any changes.

Photocoagulation surgery can help prevent vision loss during the advanced stages. The procedure involves using a laser to seal the blood vessels—this minimizes the chance that they’ll leak into the retina.

Depending on the severity of the condition, your doctor may opt for scatter photocoagulation (burns hundreds of tiny holes to stop blood vessel growth) or focal photocoagulation (targets a specific vessel).

There’s also the option of getting a vitrectomy. It’s a type of eye surgery that removes the cloudy fluid and scar tissue from the vitreous humor.


The best way to prevent diabetic retinopathy is to maintain healthy levels of blood sugar. Not only that, but it’s important to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check.

It also helps to quit smoking. Studies have shown that smokers who have diabetes are at a greater risk of developing the complication.

Understanding Diabetic Eye Disease

Hopefully, that gives you a better understanding of the condition. As you can see, there are three main diabetic retinopathy stages, each of which is characterized by different changes in the retina.

If anything, the most important thing is to control your blood glucose—that way, you’ll be able to prevent the complication altogether!

Looking for an optometrist in the Brooklyn area? Feel free to contact us to set up an appointment!

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