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Can Diabetic Retinopathy Be Reversed?

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that affects the blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive layer of tissue in the back of the eye. Simply put, diabetic retinopathy occurs when too much blood sugar damages the blood vessels in the retina. Diabetes affects blood vessels all over the body. The eyes are harmed when sugar blocks the tiny vessels that travel to the retina. This will cause them to leak fluid or bleed. Symptoms of this occurrence are not noticeable at first but as it progresses, mild vision changes will occur and can lead to blindness. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness for those age 20 to 74.

Anyone diagnosed with diabetes is at risk for diabetic retinopathy. Although diabetes affects eye care in many ways, diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss. According to the Global Retina Institute, more than 2 out of 5 adults in the United States who are diagnosed with diabetes will be afflicted with diabetic retinopathy. The risk of developing diabetic retinopathy is about 50-60% with Type 2 diabetes and is even higher at 90% probability with Type 1 diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy in both insulin and non-insulin dependent diabetes occurs 3 to 5 years after initial onset.

There are two types of diabetic retinopathy, non-proliferative (early stages of development) and proliferative (advanced form of the disease). Many people do not experience any symptoms in the non-proliferative stage. By the time symptoms occur, retinopathy is already considered advanced. Common symptoms include blurry or distorted vision, eye floaters, poor night vision, decreased field of vision, changes in what colors are seen and vision loss. 

Treatment options for diabetic retinopathy vary. In the early stages, most doctors will monitor a patient’s vision with more frequent appointments. Other treatments include injections, laser treatment, vitrectomy and combined therapy. Injections such as anti-vascular endothelial growth factor drugs and corticosteroids will aid in slowing the progression of diabetic retinopathy and improve vision. Laser surgery will shrink blood vessels to prevent them from leaking or bleeding. This option also helps reduce swelling. Vitrectomy removes scar tissue as well blood from the middle of the eye.

Diabetic retinopathy cannot be reversed, but it can be treated. Early detection and treatment can reduce the risk of blindness by 95%. Blood pressure management and glucose control are crucial factors in limiting the progression of diabetic retinopathy. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends routine screening for diabetic retinopathy. Although ophthalmologists can often stabilize the condition or reduce vision loss, prevention and early detection remain the most effective ways to preserve quality vision in patients with diabetes.

Dilated eye exams to examine the optic nerve are necessary as the first lines of defense and treatment for diabetic retinopathy. For a comprehensive exam, please contact Associated Retina Consultants at 602-242-4928 or website

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