Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Treatment, which depends largely on the type of diabetic retinopathy you have and how severe it is, is geared to slowing or stopping progression of the condition.

Early diabetic retinopathy

If you have mild or moderate nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, you may not need treatment right away. However, your eye doctor will closely monitor your eyes to determine when you might need treatment.

Work with your diabetes doctor (endocrinologist) to determine if there are ways to improve your diabetes management. When diabetic retinopathy is mild or moderate, good blood sugar control can usually slow the progression.

Advanced diabetic retinopathy

If you have proliferative diabetic retinopathy or macular edema, you'll need prompt surgical treatment. Depending on the specific problems with your retina, options may include:

  • Focal laser treatment. This laser treatment, also known as photocoagulation, can stop or slow the leakage of blood and fluid in the eye. During the procedure, leaks from abnormal blood vessels are treated with laser burns.

    Focal laser treatment is usually done in your doctor's office or eye clinic in a single session. If you had blurred vision from macular edema before surgery, the treatment might not return your vision to normal, but it's likely to reduce the chance the macular edema may worsen.

  • Scatter laser treatment. This laser treatment, also known as panretinal photocoagulation, can shrink the abnormal blood vessels. During the procedure, the areas of the retina away from the macula are treated with scattered laser burns. The burns cause the abnormal new blood vessels to shrink and scar.

    It's usually done in your doctor's office or eye clinic in two or more sessions. Your vision will be blurry for about a day after the procedure. Some loss of peripheral vision or night vision after the procedure is possible.

  • Vitrectomy. This procedure uses a tiny incision in your eye to remove blood from the middle of the eye (vitreous) as well as scar tissue that's tugging on the retina. It's done in a surgery center or hospital using local or general anesthesia.

Surgery often slows or stops the progression of diabetic retinopathy, but it's not a cure. Because diabetes is a lifelong condition, future retinal damage and vision loss are still possible. Even after treatment for diabetic retinopathy, you'll need regular eye exams. At some point, additional treatment may be recommended.

Researchers are studying new treatments for diabetic retinopathy, including medications that may help prevent abnormal blood vessels from forming in the eye. Some of these medications are injected directly into the eye to treat swelling or abnormal blood vessels. These treatments appear promising, but more study is needed.

March 20, 2015