What is diabetic eye disease?
Diabetic eye disease is a group of eye conditions that can affect people with diabetes.
Diabetic retinopathy affects blood vessels in the light-sensitive tissue called the retina that lines the back of the eye. It is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes and the leading cause of vision impairment and blindness among working-age adults.
Diabetic eye disease also includes cataract and glaucoma:
Cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens. Adults with diabetes are 2-5 times more likely than those without diabetes to develop cataract. Cataract also tends to develop at an earlier age in people with diabetes.
Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve—the bundle of nerve fibers that connects the eye to the brain. Some types of glaucoma are associated with elevated pressure inside the eye. In adults, diabetes nearly doubles the risk of glaucoma.
All forms of diabetic eye disease have the potential to cause severe vision loss and blindness.
What causes diabetic retinopathy?
Chronically high blood sugar from diabetes is associated with damage to the tiny blood vessels in the retina, leading to diabetic retinopathy. The retina detects light and converts it to signals sent through the optic nerve to the brain. Diabetic retinopathy can cause blood vessels in the retina to leak fluid or hemorrhage (bleed), distorting vision. In its most advanced stage, new abnormal blood vessels proliferate (increase in number) on the surface of the retina, which can lead to scarring and cell loss in the retina.
Who is at risk for diabetic retinopathy?
People with all types of diabetes (type 1, type 2, and gestational) are at risk for diabetic retinopathy. Risk increases the longer a person has diabetes. Between 40 and 45 percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy, although only about half are aware of it. Women who develop or have diabetes during pregnancy may have rapid onset or worsening of diabetic retinopathy.
What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy and DME?
The early stages of diabetic retinopathy usually have no symptoms. The disease often progresses unnoticed until it affects vision. Bleeding from abnormal retinal blood vessels can cause the appearance of “floating” spots. These spots sometimes clear on their own. But without prompt treatment, bleeding often recurs, increasing the risk of permanent vision loss. If DME occurs, it can cause blurred vision.
Preparing for your appointment
Come to your appointment prepared to talk about what you’ve been experiencing.
Write down the following details and bring them with you:
• the symptoms you’re experiencing
• when the symptoms happen
• what your blood glucose levels are at the time of the episode
• a list of any other health issues you’re having in addition to the vision problems, when they happen, and what makes them stop
• any other information you think is important for your doctor to know
Bring a list of questions
Your doctor is going to have several questions and information for you. Be sure you’re prepared with a list of questions you have about what you’ve been experiencing and what the next steps might be.