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Diabetic Retinopathy - When To Call a Doctor

Call your doctor immediately if you have diabetes and notice:

  • Floaters in your field of vision. Floaters often appear as dark specks, globs, strings, or dots. A sudden shower of floaters may be a sign of a retinal detachment, which is a serious complication of diabetic retinopathy.
  • A new visual defect, shadow, or curtain across part of your vision. This is another sign of retinal detachment.
  • Eye pain or a feeling of pressure in your eye.
  • New or sudden vision loss. The sudden onset of partial or complete vision loss is a symptom of many disorders that can occur within or outside the eye, including retinal detachment or bleeding within the eye. Sudden vision loss is always a medical emergency.

Watchful waiting

Watchful waiting is not an option if you have diabetes and notice changes in your vision.

If you have type 2 diabetes, even if you do not have any symptoms of eye disease, you still need to have your eyes and vision checked regularly by an eye specialist (ophthalmologist or optometrist). If you wait until you have symptoms, it is more likely that complications and severe damage to the retina will have already developed. These may be harder to treat and may result in permanent vision loss.

If you have type 1 diabetes, are age 10 or older, and were diagnosed 5 or more years ago, you should have your eyes checked even if you don't have symptoms. If you wait until you have symptoms, it is more likely that complications and severe damage to the retina will have happened. These may be harder to treat. And the damage may be permanent.

Watchful waiting is not an option if you already have diabetic retinopathy but do not have symptoms or vision loss. You will need to return to your ophthalmologist for frequent evaluations (every few months in some cases) so that your doctor can closely monitor changes in your eyes. There is no cure for the disease. But treatment can slow its progression. Your ophthalmologist can tell you how often you need to be evaluated.

Who to see

People who have diabetes need to see a doctor who specializes in eye care for their eye evaluations.

If you have diabetic retinopathy and need laser treatment or surgery, you need to consult an ophthalmologist who specializes in treating the retina and has special training in the care of eye disease caused by diabetes.

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: January 28, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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