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Diabetic Eye Disease

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The term diabetic eye disease is used to describe a group of eye diseases that are either exclusive to people living with diabetes, or are of significantly greater risk for those with diabetes. The most well-known of these diseases is diabetic retinopathy.

A Note Regarding Eye Exams

Annual eye exams for people living with diabetes are an important preventative tool in ensuring longevity of excellent vision. Many eye diseases, including serious vision-threatening diseases associated with diabetic eye disease (such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy) often develop without any obvious symptoms. Aside from early detection (via a comprehensive eye exam) and treatment, there is no other way to prevent vision loss.
If you have diabetes, we strongly recommend that you have your eyes examined annually (unless otherwise recommended by our Optometrist).

Diseases Inclusive of Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetic Retinopathy

Caused by prolonged periods of high blood sugar, diabetic retinopathy damages cells on the retina and can cause vision loss (including total blindness). There are four stages of diabetic retinopathy:

  • Mild nonproliferative retinopathy – Microaneurysms occur in blood vessels on the retina, leaking fluids into the retina.
  • Moderate nonproliferative retinopathy – Retinal blood vessels begin to swell, impairing their ability to transport blood. This stage of retinopathy is marked by obvious changes to the retina’s appearance (visible via digital retinal imaging)
  • Severe nonproliferative retinopathy – The blood supply to the retina is impaired or blocked, causing the retina to secrete growth factors that prompt new blood vessels to form
  • Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) – New blood vessels are forming on the retina, but they are weak and often die (leaving behind scar tissue). The scar tissue can contract, pulling on the retina and potentially causing a retinal detachment (resulting in total blindness of that eye).

Diabetic Macular Edema (DME)

DME is when the macula swells (the area of the eye responsible for your central vision). About half of all people with diabetic retinopathy will also develop diabetic macular edema.


Find more information on glaucoma here. Adults with diabetes are twice as likely to develop glaucoma compared to those without diabetes.


Find more information on cataracts here. People with diabetes are up to five times more likely to develop cataracts than those without.

Prevention & Detection

The biggest method of prevention/treatment is having regular dilated eye exams (ideally, annually). The eye exam captures information that informs the state of your eyes as well as the progression of any eye diseases. It is the single most important tool in our arsenal in the fight against diabetic eye disease.
Controlling your blood sugar, through lifestyle mechanisms and otherwise, is an important part of managing diabetic eye disease. Always be mindful of your blood sugar, and take steps to ensure that you have it under control as much as possible.

Written by Dr. Kyla Hunter

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