Diabetic Retinopathy – Here’s How to Get the Relief You Need

Doctor talking to patient

Diabetes continues to be a growing problem in the U.S. Each year, roughly 1.5 million adults get diagnosed with diabetes.¹ In 2019, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) said 463 million adults were living with the disease, and those numbers climb annually.²

If you have diabetes, you risk losing your vision. According to the IDF, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of vision loss in adults ages 20–65. Approximately 1 in 3 people with diabetes have diabetic retinopathy, and 1 in 10 will develop a vision-threatening form of the disease.”³

These numbers may sound scary, but don’t worry. CenterWell Pharmacy® is here to help you understand this condition and get the relief you need.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that may occur if you have diabetes. This complication affects your retina, the light-sensitive lining at the back of your eye. In other words, diabetes can cause significant damage to your eyesight over time.

What causes diabetic retinopathy?

Gradually, excess sugar in your blood can damage your small blood vessels, causing them to leak. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the tiny blood vessels in your retina leak blood and other fluids. This leakage causes your retinal tissue to swell, which makes your vision cloudy or blurred.

Here’s the good news—you can prevent, slow and even reverse diabetic retinopathy’s effects with healthy lifestyle changes and treatment.

Diabetic retinopathy’s 2 stages

Diabetic retinopathy has 2 primary stages: non-proliferative (NPDR) and proliferative (PDR).⁴

Stage 1: non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR)

During this phase, your symptoms will be mild or nonexistent, which is why regular eye exams are crucial. In NPDR, the blood vessels in your retina begin to weaken. Tiny bulges in your blood vessels may leak fluid into your retina, which can cause the center of your retina to swell.⁵

Stage 2: proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR)

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy is the disease’s most advanced stage. During this phase, circulation problems deprive your retina of oxygen. New, fragile blood vessels will begin to grow in the retina and the gel-like fluid that fills the back of your eye. But these new blood vessels don’t form properly and may leak blood and cloud your vision. Any changes to your eyesight like floaters, blurriness, black spots or vision loss could be symptoms of PDR.

PDR complications

If you have PDR, you’re at a higher risk of glaucoma.⁶ A buildup of scar tissue and the development of glaucoma tissue can cause your retina to detach, significantly affecting your vision.

Glaucoma can also cause progressive damage to your optic nerve. In PDR, new blood vessels grow into the area of the eye that drains fluid. This raises the eye pressure, which can damage your optic nerve. PDR can cause severe vision loss and even blindness if you don’t seek treatment.

How to prevent or manage diabetic retinopathy

Now that you know what diabetic retinopathy is and what symptoms to look for, how do you prevent or treat the condition? According to the National Eye Institute (NEH), the best way is to carefully manage your diabetes.⁷ If you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol and diabetes, these conditions can increase your risk for diabetic retinopathy. Controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol can help lower your risk.

Here’s what managing your diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol looks like:

  • Eat nutritional foods like fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains.
  • Unless your doctor says otherwise, get a minimum of 15 minutes of cardio exercise daily, like walking, hiking, biking, running, a stair stepper or elliptical machine or any activity that elevates your heart rate.
  • Do 30 minutes of strength training exercises like weight training, body weight exercises or resistance bands 3 times weekly.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions for your insulin, other diabetes medications, and blood pressure and cholesterol medications.
  • Check with your doctor to see how often you should receive eye exams for your particular situation, since early screening works.

Managing your diabetes may work to prevent or slow diabetic retinopathy’s onset, but what about treatments or cures?

Treating diabetic retinopathy

Suppose you’re experiencing diabetic retinopathy’s later stages. In that case, immediately starting treatment is crucial, especially if you have changes in your vision.

The NEH recommends these 3 treatments:

  • Injections. Your doctor can administer special drugs to slow down or reverse diabetic retinopathy.
  • Laser treatment. Your eye doctor can use lasers to shrink your blood vessels and prevent leakage.
  • Eye surgery. If your retina has significant bleeding or if you have extensive scar tissue in your eyes, your eye doctor may recommend a surgery called a vitrectomy.

How CenterWell Pharmacy can help

We want to make it easy for you to get the medications and over-the-counter items you need to manage your diabetes and treat diabetic retinopathy. When you order medications through CenterWell Pharmacy, you can choose to have them shipped directly to your door. And you can track your order’s progress with our order-tracking feature.

Remember, CenterWell Pharmacy is here to help you understand, treat and cope with diabetic retinopathy and all your healthcare needs.


  1. Yu-Chien Chung et al., “Early Screening for Diabetic Retinopathy in Newly Diagnosed Type 2 Diabetes and Its Effectiveness in Terms of Morbidity and Clinical Treatment: A Nationwide Population-Based Cohort,” Frontiers in Public Health 10:771862 (2022), accessed September 14, 2022, doi:10.3389/fpubh.2022.771862.
  2. “Early Screening for Diabetic Retinopathy in Newly Diagnosed Type 2 Diabetes and Its Effectiveness in Terms of Morbidity and Clinical Treatment: A Nationwide Population-Based Cohort.”
  3. “Diabetes and the eye,” International Diabetes Federation, last accessed August 14, 2022, https://idf.org/our-activities/care-prevention/eye-health.html.
  4. “Diabetic retinopathy,” American Optemetric Association, last accessed August 10, 2022, https://www.aoa.org/healthy-eyes/eye-and-vision-conditions/diabetic-retinopathy?sso=y.
  5. “Diabetic retinopathy.”
  6. Xu Liang et al., “Frequency and Risk Factors for Neovascular Glaucoma After Vitrectomy in Eyes with Diabetic Retinopathy: An Observational Study,” Diabetes Therapy 10 (2019), accessed September 14, 2022, doi:10.1007/s13300-019-0644-0.
  7. “Diabetic retinopathy,” National Eye Institute, last accessed August 12, 2022, https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/diabetic-retinopathy.

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