Diabetic Eye Diseases

Diabetic Eye Diseases

What are diabetic eye diseases?

Diabetic eye diseases are a group of conditions that can affect people with diabetes. The most common diabetic eye disease is called diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in US adults.1

Diabetes also increases the risk of:

  • Premature cataracts
  • Glaucoma

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by unwanted changes in the blood vessels of the retina. The retina senses light at the back of the eyeball, allowing us to see. When the blood vessels of the retina grow, swell and leak blood, vision can decline significantly.

If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy will get worse over time. There are four stages to the disease:

Mild nonproliferative retinopathy is the first stage, characterized by tiny points of swellings within the retina's blood vessels. In the next stage, moderate nonproliferative retinopathy, some of the vessels that supply blood to the retina become blocked.

As the number of blockages increase, the third stage, severe nonproliferative retinopathy, begins. In this stage, the blood-starved areas of the retinal signal the body to create new blood vessels. This leads to the fourth stage, proliferative retinopathy, in which the new, fragile blood vessels leak blood into the eyeball and distort vision.

What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?

In its early stages, diabetic retinopathy may not present any symptoms. This is why it is extremely important for people with diabetes to undergo regular vision exams. Symptoms of the later stages can include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Distorted vision
  • Dimmed vision
  • Difficulty reading
  • Eye floaters
  • Vision spots
  • Partial or total blindness
  • Eye pain or pressure
  • Eye redness

What are the risk factors for diabetic retinopathy?

The main risk factor is Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. About 40 to 45% of US adults diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy.2

How is diabetic retinopathy treated?

If proliferative retinopathy has not yet developed, then no treatment is needed unless the center of the retina, called the macula, has begun to swell. If the macula is swollen, and in cases where proliferative retinopathy is present, Temple offers laser surgery treatments to improve vision.

Learn more about how Temple treats diabetic retinopathy.

To schedule an appointment with a Temple ophthalmologist, click here or call 1-800-TEMPLE-MED (1-800-836-7536).

1 National Eye Institute
2 National Eye Institute