Diabetic Eye Disease

What is Diabetic Eye Disease?

The most common causes of irreversible blindness for people under the age of 65 in the United States, diabetic eye disease is the general term for vision problems related to diabetes. Making an effort to control diabetes through lifestyle adjustments and medication can reduce the risk of developing a diabetic eye disease.


Diabetic eye diseases are specific eye conditions most likely to affect people who have diabetes. All diabetic eye diseases may result in some degree of vision loss. Most diabetic eye diseases are caused by fluid build-up or damage to blood vessels. Some of the more common eye conditions linked to diabetes include:

Diabetic retinopathy

Affecting blood vessels in the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among diabetics.

Diabetic macular edema (DME)

Related to retinopathy, macular edema is a swelling in part of the retina (the macula).


Diabetics are more than twice as likely to have cataracts (clouding of the eyes’ lenses) than non-diabetics.


Referring to conditions affecting the optic nerve, glaucoma is sometimes linked to elevated pressure within the eye.


Diagnosis is often made during a routine eye exam or when a patient is experiencing noticeable vision problems.

  • Pupil dilation
  • Tonometry (measure of pressure in the eye)
  • Visual acuity testing (eye chart test)
  • Optical coherence tomography (use of light waves to capture images within the eye)

What are the Symptoms of Diabetic Eye Disease?

Symptoms of diabetic eye disease usually show no signs until severe damage has occurred (affecting the retina before vision).

Symptoms include

  • Blurry vision
  • Bleeding eyes
  • Blindness to some areas of vision
  • Difficulty seeing at night

How is Diabetic Eye Disease Treated?

Diabetic eye disease can affect both type 1 and type 2 diabetics at any stage of the disease, although the risk of developing an eye disease is greater the longer a person has diabetes.

Treatment includes

Specific treatment depends on the type of eye disease. Cataracts are treated with surgery to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial one. Corticosteroids are sometimes injected or implanted into the eye to manage DME. Diabetic retinopathy may be treated with laser surgery to shrink abnormal blood vessels.

In some cases, people with diabetic eye disease may not have ever been officially diagnosed as being diabetic if they had no other significant symptoms until experiencing vision problems. Control of diabetic symptoms can help prevent the onset of most eye diseases more prevalent in diabetics. The American Diabetes Association estimates there are about 30 million known diabetics in the United States, along with nearly 10 million more who haven’t been diagnosed.

Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
September 06, 2017