Symptoms and Detection
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Does diabetic retinopathy have any symptoms?

Often there are no symptoms in the early stages of the disease, nor is there any pain. Don't wait for symptoms. Be sure to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. Blurred vision may occur when the macula-the part of the retina that provides sharp central vision-swells from leaking fluid. This condition is called macular edema. If new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina, they can bleed into the eye and block vision.


What are the symptoms of proliferative retinopathy if bleeding occurs?

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. You may need treatment before more serious bleeding occurs. Hemorrhages tend to happen more than once, often during sleep. Sometimes, without treatment, the spots clear, 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 effective.


How are diabetic retinopathy and macular edema detected?

Diabetic retinopathy and macular edema are detected during a comprehensive eye exam that includes:

  1. Visual acuity test. This eye chart test measures how well you see at various distances.
  2. Dilated eye exam. Drops are placed in your eyes to widen, or dilate, the pupils. This allows the eye care professional to see more of the inside of your eyes to check for signs of the disease. Your eye care professional uses a special magnifying lens to examine your retina and optic nerve for signs of damage and other eye problems. After the exam, your close-up vision may remain blurred for several hours.
  3. Tonometry. An instrument measures the pressure inside the eye. Numbing drops may be applied to your eye for this test.


Your eye care professional checks your retina for early signs of the disease, including:

  • Leaking blood vessels.
  • Retinal swelling (macular edema).
  • Pale, fatty deposits on the retina--signs of leaking blood vessels.
  • Damaged nerve tissue.
  • Any changes to the blood vessels.

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.