Focus on Diabetic Retinopathy


Please note that this page is for information only, it is not a replacement for medical advice.
If you have any questions regarding diabetic retinopathy or any other eye condition, please consult a medical professional. 

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that occurs as a complication of diabetes, which affects the retina (the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye). The high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes can damage the small blood vessels in the retina, causing them to leak or become blocked.

Over time, diabetic retinopathy can lead to vision loss or even blindness if left untreated. The condition is more common in people who have had diabetes for a long time or who have poorly controlled blood sugar levels.

The different types of diabetic retinopathy:

There are two main types of diabetic retinopathy: non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) and proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR).

Non-Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (NPDR)

NPDR is an early stage of the disease, where the blood vessels in the retina begin to leak, causing swelling and fluid build up in the retina.

Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (PDR)

PDR is a more advanced stage, where new blood vessels grow in the retina, which can leak or cause scarring and pulling on the retina, leading to vision loss.

It is important for people with diabetes to have regular eye exams to detect and treat diabetic retinopathy as early as possible. Treatment options may include medications, laser therapy, or surgery, depending on the severity of the condition. Additionally, managing blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol can also help to prevent or slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy.


1,700 people lose their sight every year to diabetes

Diabetes UK


Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

In the early stages, diabetic retinopathy may not cause any noticeable symptoms. However, as the condition progresses, some symptoms may appear, including:

  • Blurred vision
  • Seeing spots or floaters
  • Dark or empty spots in the vision
  • Difficulty seeing at night
  • Colour vision changes
  • Vision loss

It is important to note that diabetic retinopathy can develop without any symptoms, which is why it is recommended for people with diabetes to have regular eye exams, even if they are not experiencing any vision problems. Early detection and treatment can help prevent vision loss and other complications.

What Diabetic Retinopathy might look like

Image shows hands holding a vase of flowers in a well lit room. Large, blurred black splodges appear at random, obscuring some parts of the image, which is what someone with diabetic retinopathy might experience.      

Please note this is a simulation of diabetic retinopathy, based on the anecdotal experiences of people who have the condition. This image is not the experience of everyone with diabetic retinopathy and is for illustration purposes only.

Diagnosis of Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy can be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye exam, which may include several tests, such as:

Visual Acuity Test

This test measures how well you can see at various distances.

Dilated eye exam

During this exam, the eye doctor will use eye drops to dilate (widen) your pupils, allowing them to see the back of your eye more clearly. They will then examine the retina for signs of damage, such as abnormal blood vessels, swelling, or fluid buildup.


This test measures the pressure inside your eye, which can be an indicator of certain eye diseases.

Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT)

A non-invasive imaging test that uses light waves to take detailed pictures of the retina. It can help detect and monitor changes in the retina, including swelling and fluid buildup.

If diabetic retinopathy is detected, the eye doctor may recommend further tests, such as a fluorescein angiography or a visual field test, to determine the severity of the condition and the best course of treatment.

It is recommended for people with diabetes to have a comprehensive eye exam at least once a year, or as often as recommended by their eye doctor, to detect and monitor any changes in their eye health.



Diabetes is the leading cause of preventable sight loss in the UK

Diabetes UK



The treatment of diabetic retinopathy depends on the severity of the condition.

In the early stages of non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR), treatment may not be necessary, but the person will still need to monitor the condition with regular eye exams.

If the condition has progressed to proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) or if there is macular oedema (swelling in the centre of the retina), treatment options may include:

Laser Therapy

This involves using a laser to seal off leaky blood vessels in the retina, or to shrink abnormal blood vessels to prevent them from leaking.

Intravitreal injections

Injections of medication into the eye to help reduce swelling and prevent the growth of new blood vessels.


A surgical procedure to remove blood and scar tissue from the centre of the eye.

In addition to these treatments, it is important for people with diabetic retinopathy to manage their blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol through diet, exercise, and medication as recommended by their healthcare provider. This can help slow the progression of the condition and reduce the risk of further complications.

Regular eye exams are also important to monitor the condition and determine the effectiveness of the treatment.

Living with Diabetic Retinopathy

Living with diabetic retinopathy can be challenging, but there are steps that can be taken to manage the condition and prevent or delay further vision loss. Here are some strategies that may be helpful:

Regular eye exams

People with diabetic retinopathy should have regular eye exams as recommended by their eye doctor. This can help detect and monitor any changes in the eyes and determine the best course of treatment.

Blood sugar control

Managing blood sugar levels through diet, exercise, and medication can help prevent or slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy.

Blood pressure control

High blood pressure can increase the risk of vision loss in people with diabetic retinopathy. Managing blood pressure through medication, diet, and exercise can help prevent or delay further damage to the eyes.

Cholesterol control

High cholesterol levels can increase the risk of vision loss in people with diabetic retinopathy. Managing cholesterol levels through diet, exercise, and medication can help prevent or delay further damage to the eyes.

Follow treatment plan

If treatment is recommended, it is important to follow the treatment plan as recommended by the healthcare provider. This may include taking medication, undergoing laser therapy or surgery, and attending follow-up appointments.

Lifestyle Changes

Quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and engaging in regular exercise can help prevent or delay the progression of diabetic retinopathy and other diabetes-related complications.


Joining a support group or talking with a mental health professional can provide emotional support and help manage the stress of living with diabetic retinopathy.

Use assistive technology

There's lots of technology available to help you with everyday tasks, staying in touch with loved ones and accessing entertainment. Whatever your experience is with computers, Dolphin assistive technology can help. Assistive tech from Dolphin includes screen magnifiers, screen readers and accessible book readers.

It is important to remember that with proper management and treatment, many people with diabetic retinopathy are able to maintain good vision and quality of life.


Where to find more information about Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes UK logo

Diabetes UK

Working to prevent Type 2 diabetes, campaign for and support everyone affected by diabetes, and fund research into a cure.

Visit Diabetes UK >

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NHS Website

To find out more about Diabetic Retinopathy and learn when and how to get treatment in the UK, visit the the NHS Health website. 

NHS Diabetic Retinopathy >

American Diabetes Assoc

American Diabetes Association

A fantastic resource for information, advice, research and management of diabetes in the US.  

Visit ADA website >

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How Dolphin assistive technology can help you live with Diabetic Retinopathy

How Dolphin makes a difference

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If you are blind or partially sighted, Dolphin assistive technology helps you maintain your independence. We have developed specialist software, specifically for people experiencing sight loss.

For over 35 years, we have made a difference to the lives of millions of people who are blind or partially sighted. Dolphin software includes screen magnification and screen reading technology, book reading apps and easy to use computer programs. These work to help people with sight loss to work or study, to complete tasks independently at home, to access the internet and read all the information on a computer screen.

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About GuideConnect

GuideConnect is easy-to-use computer technology, designed for people with visual impairments. It is suitable for beginners or experienced computer users and can be used through your own TV, on a tablet or computer. It has high-contrast icons, talking menus and adjustable text sizes to help guide you through many different tasks. 

GuideConnect helps people who are losing their sight stay independent for longer. It connects you to friends and family, enables you to do everyday tasks like reading your post and provides access to a range of entertainment such as audiobooks, games and radio. 

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