Diabetic Retinopathy: Symptoms, Causes, and Diagnoses

Posted: 11/19/2015 11:04 AM by Interim HealthCare

Diabetic retinopathy is a serious risk factor for anyone suffering from diabetes. It is a retina-damaging condition that affects more than 5 million Americans over the age of 40 and has caused one-third of older adults to become legally blind. This eye condition genuinely does not occur until the older adult has had diabetes for over 10 years, but it is important your loved one stay current on their eye and physical exams. If your loved one is receiving elderly care and you are the primary family caregiver, you can help them live a healthier life through diet and exercise with the doctor's approval. However, if you fear your loved one is at risk for diabetic retinopathy, knowing the following information will help you determine if the elder is in need of medical attention.


Just because someone has diabetes does not mean they are doomed to have diabetic retinopathy. By simply controlling their blood sugar and blood pressure levels will halt the progression of this eye disease. The American Academy of Ophthalmology did report that the long an elder has diabetes, the higher their chances are of having diabetic retinopathy to some degree. Seniors who have never been formally diagnosed with diabetes have a 25 percent chance of becoming blind due to the disease. Other risk factors include sleep apnea, high blood cholesterol, and poor control of the disease. Since elders are more prone to a number of eye conditions, especially those receiving in-home care for other health problems, making an appointment with an ophthalmologist and getting regular eye exams could help lower your loved one's chances of getting a serious vision problem.


When the following symptoms are evident in an elder with diabetes, the chances of having this eye condition is pretty high.
  • Eye spots and floaters
  • A scotoma or shadow develops in your line of vision
  • Vision is distorted and/or blurry
  • Pain in the eye
  • Double vision
  • Corneal abnormalities, such as slow healing wounds caused by corneal abrasions
  • Cataracts
  • Vision fluctuates
  • Near vision problems unrelated to other eye conditions
  • Swelling, bleeding or leakage of fluids from the blood vessels, and deposits that are found in the retina
  • Nerve damage that makes it difficult to control eye movement


There are two forms of diabetic retinopathy that can be tested through a dilated eye exam:
  • Macular edema: This condition occurs when the tiny blood vessels in the retina leaks. The fluid and blood then leaks from the retinal blood vessels and exudate, or fatty material, and deposits directly into the retina. This causes swelling in the retina, which will result in blurred or reduced vision. 
  • Proliferative retinopathy and vitreous hemorrhage: When this condition occurs, new, abnormal blood vessels begin to grow on the retina's surface. Glaucoma will cause increased pressure within the eye if these new blood vessels grow around the pupil. Severe vision loss or blindness can be the result of this eye disease if it goes untreated.
Other diagnosis tests that can be done include:
  • Fluorescein Angiogram test: A contrast agent or dye is injected into the arm, which can be seen coursing through the blood vessels in the retina. This test can help determine if any blood vessels are leaking. 
  • Ocular coherence tomography (OCT): A light is used to reflect off of the different layers of the retina and will produce a cross sectional image of the retina. It will help determine if there are any areas in the retina that are filled with fluid.
To help your aging loved one who is receiving senior care preserve their eyesight, encourage them to properly manage their diabetes and see an ophthalmologist once or twice a year in order to detect diabetic retinopathy before it is too late.

If you have an aging loved one in need of senior care contact Interim HealthCare today.


Haddrill, Marilyn. All About Vision. "Diabetic Retinopathy."
American Diabetes Association. "Diabetic Retinopathy."
M Kellogg Eye Center. "Diabetic Retinopathy."