Understanding Diabetic Eye Diseases
Published 20 August 2019
Diabetic eye diseases are a group of eye problems that can occur as a result of uncontrolled high blood sugar levels. Vision loss can occur over time, particularly when diabetes is poorly-controlled, causing damage in the retina – a part of the eye that sends information to the brain enabling sight.1
Diabetic retinopathy (DR) occurs when damage to the blood vessels causes blood and/or fluid to leak into the retina.
This leads to swelling, as well as blockage of blood supply to some areas of the retina.1
Diabetic macular edema (DME) is a complication of DR, which happens when the damaged blood vessels leak into, and cause swelling in the macula.
The macula is the central area of the retina responsible for the sharp vision needed for reading and driving.1
Approximately 422 million people have diabetes globally - 5.5% of the population.2
Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults aged 20-74.2,3,4
DR affects 93 million people globally, and accounts for almost 5% of all cases of blindness.5
DME affects 21 million people globally and is the leading cause of vision loss in people with diabetes.5
All types of diabetes
caused by a lack of insulin (type 1), an insufficient response to insulin (type 2), or pregnancy (gestational)
high blood sugar
high blood pressure
family history of DR or DME
Signs and symptoms
DR may cause no, or only mild, eyesight problems, until complications, such as DME, occur.1 DME can cause:6
Difficulty distinguishing between shades of light and dark
Patches of vision loss, appearing as ‘floating’ small black dots or lines
Impact of diabetic eye disease
Vision lost to DR can be irreversible, but early detection and treatment can reduce the risk of blindness by 95%.1
Impaired vision can impact: 7
- The ability to carry out everyday tasks
- The ability to work
- The ability to lead an active social life
- Quality of life, with increased social isolation, depression and anxiety disorders
As the rate of diabetes continues to grow, an increased number of people will be affected by diabetic eye disease.5
Annual eye test
Getting an annual eye test is the best way to detect any changes in vision. A dilated retinal examination will help to diagnose any retinal diseases. If you’d like more information on diabetic eye diseases or other retinal diseases, talk to your optician or visit www.retina-international.org/.
- National Eye Institute. Facts About Diabetic Eye Disease. [Internet; cited May 2019]. Available from: https://nei.nih.gov/health/diabetic/retinopathy.
- World Health Organisation. Diabetes [Internet; cited May 2019]. Available from: http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/diabetes.
- Lee R, Wong TY, Sabanayagam C. Epidemiology of diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema and related vision loss. Eye Vis. 2015; 2:17.
- Yau JWY, Rogers SL, Kawasaki R, et al. Global Prevalence and Major Risk Factors of Diabetic Retinopathy. Diabetes Care. 2012; 35: 556-564.
- Leasher JL, et al. Global Estimates on the Number of People Blind or Visually Impaired by Diabetic Retinopathy: A Meta-Analysis from 1990 to 2010. Diabetes Care. 2016; 39:1643-9.
- American Academy of Ophthalmology. Diabetic Retinopathy Symptoms. [Internet; cited May 2019]. Available from: http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/diseases/diabetic-retinopathy/symptoms.
- Park SJ, Ahn S, Woo SJ, et al. Extent of Exacerbation of Chronic Health Conditions by Visual Impairment in Terms of Health-Related Quality of Life. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2015; 133:1267-1275.