Diabetic Retinopathy

Symptoms and Detection

Diabetic retinopathy often has no early warning signs. Don't wait for symptoms. Be sure to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year to detect the disease before it causes damage to your vision.

Vision Changes May Indicate Bleeding

In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, you may not notice any changes in your vision. But if diabetic retinopathy reaches its final stage, proliferative retinopathy, bleeding can occur.

If this happens, at first, you will see a few specks of blood, or spots, floating in your vision. If spots occur, see your eye care professional as soon as possible.

Early Treatment is Important

You may need treatment before more serious bleeding or hemorrhages occur causing vision loss or possibly blindness. Hemorrhages tend to happen more than once, often during sleep.

See how to find an eye care professional.

Here is a list of questions to ask your eye care professional.

Sometimes the spots clear without treatment, and you will see better. However, bleeding can reoccur and cause severely blurred vision. You need to be examined by your eye care professional at the first sign of blurred vision, before more bleeding occurs.

If left untreated, proliferative retinopathy can cause severe vision loss and even blindness. Also, the earlier you receive treatment, the more likely treatment will be successful.


Diabetic retinopathy and macular edema are detected during a comprehensive eye exam that includes a visual acuity test, dilated eye exam, and tonometry.

A visual acuity test is an eye chart test that measures how well you see at various distances.

During the dilated eye exam, your eye care professional checks your retina for early signs of the disease, including

  • leaking blood vessels
  • retinal swelling such as macular edema
  • pale, fatty deposits on the retina -- signs of leaking blood vessels
  • damaged nerve tissue

Watch an animation showing what a comprehensive dilated eye exam involves.

With tonometry, an instrument measures the pressure inside the eye. Numbing drops may be applied to your eye for this test.

If your eye care professional believes you need treatment for macular edema, he or she may suggest a fluorescein angiogram. In this test, a special dye is injected into your arm. Pictures are taken as the dye passes through the blood vessels in your retina.

The test allows your eye care professional to identify any leaking blood vessels and recommend treatment.