Did You Know?
- More than 30 million people in the U.S. are living with diabetes and many more are prediabetic. 1-3
- Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in adults ages 20 to 74, affecting 1 in 4 diabetics. 1
- More than 14 million Americans ages 40 and older are predicted to develop diabetic retinopathy by 2050. 1-3
- People with diabetes are also more likely have develop cataracts and glaucoma. 1
- The longer you have diabetes the more likely you are to develop diabetes-related eye disorders, so regular exams are critical. 1
What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetes can lead to heart and kidney disease, nerve damage, stroke and vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy is the most common eye disease that happens in diabetics and occurs when high blood sugar levels cause abnormal blood vessels to grow on the surface of the retina and then into the eye. The vessels are fragile and can leak, causing vision to be blurry.1 Another problem that can impair vision in diabetics is called diabetes-related macular edema. This occurs when small blood vessels in the center of the retina (a region called the macula) become leaky, causing the retina to swell. 1
What Are the Stages?
There are two main stages of diabetic retinopathy called “non-proliferative” (which may be mild, moderate or severe) and “proliferative”. 1,2 While there may be no symptoms in early mild stages, the changes in the eye can be detected with a comprehensive eye exam. Over time as the disease progresses, symptoms may include:
- Blurry vision
- Spots or dark shapes in vision (floaters)
- Trouble seeing colors
- Dark or empty areas in vision, visual loss
What Are the Risk Factors?
The longer you have diabetes, the more likely you are to develop diabetic retinopathy. Other risk factors include poorly controlled diabetes and high blood sugar, and high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Risk is increased in smokers and in African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and American Indians/Alaska Natives. 1-3
What Can I Do?
Studies have shown that while most people know that diabetes can damage the eyes, many are not aware that early detection and treatment can prevent vision loss. 1,2 In one study, despite being aware of the need for regular eye exams, 1 in 4 had not had an exam in the last year. 3
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following steps that people with diabetes can take to protect their vision and lower their risk for vision loss:
- Get a dilated eye exam at least once a year to find diabetes-related eye diseases early while they’re most treatable.
- Keep your blood sugar levels in a healthy range as much as possible.
- Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in a healthy range to lower your risk.
- Stop smoking. Quitting lowers your risk for diabetes-related eye problems and other diseases.
- Stay physically active. Physical activity helps you manage diabetes and protect your vision.
- Download Diabetes and Eye Disease Resources from the American Diabetes Association.
- Read fact sheets on Diabetic Retinopathy and Diabetic Macular Edema from Prevent Blindness.
- Explore the National Eye Institutes Diabetes portal.
1. Diabetes and Vision Loss. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Last accessed 4.21.22; 2. Making Eye Health a Population Health Imperative: Vision for Tomorrow. National Academies Press. 2016; 3. Dougherty M, et al. Published Examination-based Prevalence of Major Eye Disorders 2018; 3. Konstantinidis et al. Awareness and practices regarding eye diseases among patients with diabetes. BMC Endocr Disord, 2017.