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About one in three people with diabetes who are older than age 40 already have some signs of diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss in people with diabetes. Each person’s outlook for the future, however, depends in large part on regular care. Finding and treating diabetic retinopathy early can reduce the risk of blindness by 95 percent.

Glaucoma and Cataracts

Your chances of developing glaucoma or cataracts are about twice that of someone without diabetes.

Who is more likely to develop diabetic eye disease?

Anyone with diabetes can develop diabetic eye disease. Your risk is greater with

  • high blood glucose that is not treated
  • high blood pressure that is not treated

High blood cholesterol and smoking may also raise your risk for diabetic eye disease.

Some groups are affected more than others. African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Hispanics/Latinos, Pacific Islanders, and older adults are at greater risk of losing vision or going blind from diabetes.

If you have diabetes and become pregnant, you can develop eye problems very quickly during your pregnancy. If you already have some diabetic retinopathy, it can get worse during pregnancy. Changes that help your body support a growing baby may put stress on the blood vessels in your eyes. Your health care team will suggest regular eye exams during pregnancy to catch and treat problems early and protect your vision.

Diabetes that occurs only during pregnancy, called gestational diabetes, does not usually cause eye problems. Researchers aren’t sure why this is the case.

Your chances of developing diabetic eye disease increase the longer you have diabetes.

What are the symptoms of diabetic eye disease?

Often there are no early symptoms of diabetic eye disease. You may have no pain and no change in your vision as damage begins to grow inside your eyes, particularly with diabetic retinopathy.

When symptoms do occur, they may include

  • blurry or wavy vision
  • frequently changing vision—sometimes from day to day
  • dark areas or vision loss
  • poor color vision
  • spots or dark strings (also called floaters)
  • flashes of light

Talk with your eye doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

How do doctors diagnose eye problems from diabetes?

Having a full, dilated eye exam is the best way to check for eye problems from diabetes. Your doctor will place drops in your eyes to widen your pupils. This allows the doctor to examine a larger area at the back of each eye, using a special magnifying lens. Your vision will be blurry for a few hours after a dilated exam.

Your doctor will also

  • test your vision
  • measure the pressure in your eyes

Your doctor may suggest other tests, too, depending on your health history.

Most people with diabetes should see an eye care professional once a year for a complete eye exam. Your own health care team may suggest a different plan, based on your type of diabetes and the time since you were first diagnosed.

How do doctors treat diabetic eye disease?

Your doctor may recommend having eye exams more often than once a year, along with management of your diabetes. This means managing your diabetes ABCs, which include your A1c, blood pressure, and cholesterol; and quitting smoking. Ask your health care team what you can do to reach your goals.

Management of blood glucose can help prevent diabetic eye disease and keep it from getting worse.

Doctors may treat advanced eye problems with medicine, laser treatments, surgery, or a combination of these options.

What can I do to protect my eyes?

To prevent diabetic eye disease, or to keep it from getting worse, manage your diabetes ABCs: your A1c, blood pressure, and cholesterol; and quit smoking if you smoke. Read more information on how to manage diabetes.

Also, have a dilated eye exam at least once a year—or more often if recommended by your eye care professional. These actions are powerful ways to protect the health of your eyes—and can prevent blindness.

The sooner you work to manage your diabetes and other health conditions, the better. And, even if you’ve struggled in the past to manage your health, taking better care of yourself now can protect your eyes for the future. It’s never too late to begin.

What if I already have some vision loss from diabetes?

Ask your eye care professional to help you find a low vision and rehabilitation resource. Special eye care professionals can help you manage vision loss that cannot be corrected with glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery. Special devices and training may help you make the most of your remaining vision so that you can continue to be active, enjoy hobbies, visit friends and family members, and live without help from others.  Source: