Diabetic Retinopathy

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Duke retinal specialists are experts in diagnosing, managing, and treating diabetic retinopathy and are recognized leaders in diabetic retinopathy research. We use the latest imaging devices to identify the changes in your eye caused by the disease as early as possible and recommend the most appropriate treatment. That’s important because diabetic retinopathy can cause permanent blindness if left untreated. Our advanced training and experience ensure you get the care you need -- when you need it -- to prevent or halt the vision loss often associated with diabetic retinopathy.

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About Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes can harm your eye in many ways. The retina is the part of the eye most commonly damaged by diabetes, and this condition is called diabetic retinopathy. Early changes often go unnoticed, so making an early diagnosis important. The damage can be caught early with sophisticated imaging technology. Your doctor can detect macular swelling (swelling in the center of the retina), leaky or blocked blood vessels, and growth of new, abnormal blood vessels before symptoms occur. Depending on the severity of your disease, we may monitor your condition or recommend a treatment that meets your needs. We work closely with you and your diabetes specialists to help you reduce your risk for vision loss and keep your eyes as healthy as possible.

Our Locations

Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.

Treatments for Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes Control

People with diabetes and at risk for diabetic retinopathy can slow its progress by using medication and healthy lifestyle habits to control their blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol.

Anti-VEGF Injections

Medications that block or inhibit vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) have proven to be effective at limiting leakage, reducing macular swelling, and inhibiting the growth of new blood vessels, thus diminishing injury to the retina. Monthly injections in or around the eye may prevent vision loss.

Laser Surgery

Also known as panretinal photocoagulation, this procedure uses sophisticated imaging to direct up to 2,000 laser points around the outer retina to shrink abnormal blood vessels and treat the retina. Two or more sessions may be necessary. Laser surgery is performed in your doctor’s office.

Focal Laser Surgery

A less intense laser targets fewer spots in the macula. The laser seals leaky blood vessels to reduce the swelling in the macula (known as diabetic macular edema) that causes blurry vision. Focal laser surgery is performed in your doctor’s office.


Tiny incisions are made in the white part of your eyes in a surgery performed in the operating room. Through these incisions, your surgeon can remove blood from your eye, apply a full laser, and repair retinal detachments that may result from diabetes.

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Tests for Diabetic Retinopathy

Visual Acuity

Measures the accuracy of your vision by determining the smallest letters you can see on a chart.

Dilated Eye Exam

Dilation drops allow your doctor to get a better look at your retina, optic nerve, and macula.

Optical Coherence Tomography

OCT is a computer-guided device that creates a 3D image map of the front part of your eye, the optic nerve, and the macula. It detects changes in the thickness of the macula.

Fluorescein Angiography

Dye is injected into your arm to identify new or leaking blood vessels in your eye. Magnified devices capture images that cannot be seen with your doctor’s naked eye.

Best Eye Hospital in North Carolina

Where you receive your care matters. Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why our ophthalmology program is ranked seventh in the nation and is the highest-ranked program in North Carolina, according to U.S. News & World Report for 2023–2024.

Comprehensive Care for Diabetic Retinopathy

Advanced Training and Experience
Our specialists combine advanced training with the experience that comes from treating large volumes of people from diabetic retinopathy. We routinely perform complicated surgeries, and our surgical suites are staffed by anesthesiologists and surgical nurses with extensive training and experience in caring for people with complex eye conditions.

Latest Imaging Devices
Our researchers use the most sophisticated imaging to perform tests that help us diagnose and treat diabetic retinopathy. Wide-field imaging devices allow for visualization of the outer edges of the retina. This significant advancement better guides our treatment recommendations.

Low Vision Rehabilitation
If you are experiencing vision loss related to diabetic retinopathy, we conduct a thorough evaluation of your needs and give you the tools and knowledge to optimize your visual function and maximize your quality of life.

Comprehensive Support
Our clinical social worker is available to help you cope with the emotional and psychological stress of vision loss and other medical or environmental concerns.

Research Advancements
You may be eligible to participate in our many ongoing research programs (clinical trials), which may lead to a better understanding of diabetic retinopathy and improve treatment options and outcomes.

This page was medically reviewed on 08/24/2022 by