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Diabetes
Vision Health

Diabetes and Eye Disease

Diabetes affects other organs besides the kidneys. It often affects vision. Experts from the National Eye Institute share what diabetic eye disease is, and how it can be managed.

Diabetic eye disease comprises a group of eye conditions that affect people with diabetes. These conditions include diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema (DME), cataract, and glaucoma.  Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes and a leading cause of blindness among working-age adults. But all forms of diabetic eye disease have the potential to cause severe vision loss and blindness.

Chronically high blood sugar from diabetes is associated with damage to the tiny blood vessels in the retina, leading to diabetic retinopathy. The retina, which is essential for good vision, 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 on the surface of the retina, which can lead to scarring and cell loss in the retina.

If you have diabetic retinopathy, at first you may not notice changes to your vision. But over time, diabetic retinopathy can get worse and cause vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes.

Diabetic macular edema (DME) is a consequence of diabetic retinopathy that causes swelling in the area of the retina called the macula.

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.

Controlling diabetes—by taking medications as prescribed, staying physically active, and maintaining a healthy diet—can prevent or delay vision loss.

For more information on diabetes-related eye disease, and eye conditions in general, visit the National Eye Institute’s website.

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