Recent successful trials of antibodies to vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in diabetic retinopathy implicate this cytokine as a major cause of diabetic retinopathy (DR) and diabetic macular oedema (DME). The mechanisms which cause VEGF to be over-expressed to cause the vasculopathy are not entirely clear. This review explores the earliest changes to the retina in DR and the factors that predispose or prevent DR, including sleep apnoea, receptor degenerations laser treatment and VEGF polymorphism. The review also presents the evidence that retinal hypoxia, existing in the earliest stages, causes DR. This hypoxia is much increased by dark adaptation, indicating a new and possibly superior therapy.