Diabetic eye disease can come in several forms: diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macula edema, cataracts, and glaucoma. Diabetic eye disease happens when blood sugar levels stay elevated for a long period of time and damage the small blood vessels around the eyes. Because any form of diabetic eye disease comes with the potential for severe vision loss and blindness, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms.
Diabetic retinopathy happens when blood vessels in the retina begin to bleed or leak fluid. This distorts vision and is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in people with diabetes. Between 40 and 45 percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes will develop diabetic retinopathy in their lifetime.
Symptoms: floaters, blurriness, dark areas of vision, and difficulty perceiving colors
Diabetic macular edema
Diabetic macular edema (DME) happens when fluid builds up in a region of the retina called the macula. This part of the eye is important for the type of straight-on vision used for reading and driving. DME can develop if a person has untreated diabetic retinopathy that worsens over time. About half the people diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy will develop DME.
Symptoms: patches of vision loss, blurry vision, cloudy vision, colors that look washed out or faded
Cataracts are cloudy, opaque layers over the lens of the eye that can result in cloudy or blurred vision.
People with diabetes face a 60 percent greater risk of developing cataracts compared to the general population. Those who have type 2 diabetes can reduce the risk of developing cataracts by 19 percent if they lower their HbA1c by just 1 percent.
Symptoms: cloudy or misty vision, blurred vision, spots in your vision, being dazzled by bright lights, seeing a halo around lights, and yellowing of vision
There are two main types of glaucoma, but those with diabetes risk developing open-angle glaucoma. This happens when eye fluid does not drain and becomes backed-up, creating pressure and damage to the optic nerve. People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop glaucoma compared to those without diabetes.
Symptoms: hazy or blurred vision, appearance of rainbow-colored circles around bright lights, severe eye pain, sudden sight loss
Early detection and treatment can reduce the risk of blindness by 95 percent. Because the symptoms of these diseases can be subtle, it’s important for those with diabetes to see an eye specialist for a dilated eye exam at least once a year.