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Diabetic Eye Disease


If you have diabetes, you are at an increased risk for developing certain eye conditions.  This is what is referred to as diabetic eye disease. Chronically high blood sugar levels and blood pressure are the primary causes for the eye conditions grouped within diabetic eye disease. All forms of diabetic eye disease have the potential to cause severe vision loss or total blindness.

The group of eye conditions that comprise diabetic eye disease are diabetic retinopathy (DR), glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic macular edema (DME). You are not guaranteed to develop one of these eye conditions, just as anyone without diabetes has the potential to develop one of them.

The Diabetic Eye Diseases

Diabetic Retinopathy

This particular eye disease is the most common form that those with diabetes are at risk for developing. The blood vessels of your retina – the light sensitive tissue that lines the back of your eye – are directly affected by diabetic retinopathy. These damaged blood vessels are weak and tend to leak blood and other fluids into your eye. This leakage causes the retinal tissue to swell, leading to your vision being distorted or noticeably dim.

If diabetic retinopathy is left untreated, complete vision loss can be expected.

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include:

  • Seeing spots or floaters
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty seeing at night
  • A dark or empty spot in the center of your vision

The 4 Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy

  • Mild/Moderate/Severe Nonproliferative Retinopathy – As nonproliferative retinopathy progresses through its stages, the tiny blood vessels of the retina experience microaneurysms. These microaneurysms risk leaking fluid into the retina. As it progresses into the moderate stage, the blood vessels that directly sustain the retina may swell and become disfigured, leading to decreased vision.

    The damaged blood vessels will likely lose their ability to transport blood to the retina. As nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy progresses into its final and severe stage, patients will experience:
    1. Vision loss (increasingly blurred vision)
    2. Loss of color perception
  • Proliferative Retinopathy (PDR) – Fragile blood vessels begin to form inside the surface of the retina. During this advanced stage, leakages of these vessels begins.

    Your vision will begin to cloud as blood and other fluids leak into the interior substance of your eye (the vitreous). These newly formed weak blood vessels gradually begin to scar over your retina. This risks your retina being pulled on and eventually detaching, ultimately leading to a loss of vision.

    Early detection and treatment of retinal tears/detachment increases your chance of preventing complete vision loss.

    If you have diabetes, it is recommended that you have an eye exam every year..  This gives our Optometrist the opportunity to closely monitor your overall ocular health.

Diabetic Macular Edema (DME)

This eye condition results from diabetic retinopathy. DME is the result of fluid accumulating in the macula – the part of your retina that controls your ability to see details – due to poorly formed blood vessels leaking fluid.

DME symptoms include:

  • Eye floaters1
  • Double vision
  • Blurry vision
  • If left untreated, complete vision loss

In order to stop the leakage of fluids into the macula, DME can be treated with a laser procedure.


Diabetes doubles your risk for developing Glaucoma, which is an eye condition that causes damage to the eye’s optic nerve. If glaucoma is left untreated it can result in complete vision loss.

Learn more about glaucoma2.


The clouding of the eye’s natural lens is known as a cataract. Diabetes increases your risk of developing cataracts.

Learn more about cataracts3.

Eye Exams Reduce Your Risk of Vision Loss by 95%

If you have diabetes, or any kind of health condition that increases your likelihood of developing an eye condition, we recommend having a comprehensive eye exam4 every year. Our Optometrist may require an increased frequency of visits if they discover an ocular issue that needs to be monitored closely.
Many of the early stage symptoms of diabetic eye disease are gradual and silent, damaging your vision before you notice them. The only way to stay on top of your overall eye health is to have regular eye exams. The earlier our Optometrist is able to detect potential eye conditions, the more likely they are able to prevent you from experiencing complete vision loss.