Diabetic Eye Disease

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What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that affects the body’s ability to produce or use insulin effectively to control blood sugar (glucose) levels. Too much glucose in the blood for a long time can cause damage in many parts of the body. Diabetes can damage the heart, kidneys and blood vessels. It damages small blood vessels in the eye as well.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that about 90% of vision loss from diabetes can be prevented. Early detection is key. People with diabetes should get critical, annual eye exams even before they have signs of vision loss. Studies show that sixty percent of diabetic are not getting eye exams their doctors recommend.


What Is Diabetic Eye Disease?

Diabetic eye disease is a term for several eye problems that can all result from diabetes. Diabetic eye disease includes: 

  • diabetic retinopathy
  • diabetic macular edema
  • cataract
  • glaucoma


Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is when blood vessels in the retina swell, leak or close off completely. Abnormal new blood vessels can also grow on the surface of the retina.

People who have diabetes or poor blood sugar control are at risk for diabetic retinopathy. Risk also increases the longer someone has diabetes.  Many people develop diabetic retinopathy after living with diabetes for years or decades.


Diabetic macular edema

Macular Edema happens when fluid builds up on the retina and causes swelling and blurry vision. Diabetes can cause macular edema. Diabetic macular edema can lead to permanent vision loss.


Diabetes and cataracts

Excess blood sugar from diabetes can causes cataracts. You may need cataract surgery to remove lenses that are clouded by the effects of diabetes. Maintaining good control of your blood sugar helps prevent permanent clouding of the lens and surgery.


Diabetes and glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that cause damage to your eye's optic nerve. This damage leads to irreversible loss of vision. Having diabetes doubles your chance of getting glaucoma.


What Other Eye Problems Are Related to Diabetes?

Diabetes can cause vision problems even if you do not have a form of diabetic eye disease.

If your blood sugar levels change quickly, it can affect the shape of your eye’s lens, causing blurry vision. Your vision goes back to normal after your blood sugar stabilizes. Have your blood sugar controlled before getting your eyeglasses prescription checked.  This ensures you receive the correct prescription.

Diabetes is a risk factor for several other eye diseases. They include:

  • Branch retinal vein occlusion(BRVO) 
  • Central retinal vein occlusion(CRVO)


Take Steps to Protect Your Vision

To prevent eye damage from diabetes, maintain good control of your blood sugar. Follow your primary care physician's diet and exercise plan. If you have not had an eye exam with an ophthalmologist, it is crucial to get one now. Be sure to never skip the follow-up exams that your ophthalmologist recommends.

Diabetic eye disease (retinopathy) is a diabetes condition that affects the eyes. It's caused by damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye (retina). There are two types of diabetic retinopathy: nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) and proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR).


Types of Diabetic Retinopathy


  1. NPDR, commonly known as background retinopathy, is an early stage of diabetic retinopathy in which tiny blood vessels within the retina leak blood or fluid. The leaking fluid causes the retina to swell or to form deposits called exudates. Many people with diabetes have mild NPDR, which usually does not affect their vision. When vision is affected it is the result of macular edema, macular ischemia or both. Macular edema is swelling or thickening of the macula, a small area in the center of the retina that allows us to see fine details. While it’s the most common cause of visual loss in diabetes, peripheral vision still continues to function. Macular ischemia is when small blood vessels (capillaries) close and the macula no longer receives sufficient blood supply to work properly.
  2. PDR is present when abnormal new vessels (neovascularization) begin growing on the surface of the retina or optic nerve. The main cause of PDR is widespread closure of retinal blood vessels, preventing adequate blood flow. The retina responds by growing new blood vessels in an attempt to supply blood to the area where the original vessels closed. PDR may cause more severe vision loss than NPDR because it can affect both central and peripheral vision.