Diabetic Eye Disease: Overview

If you have diabetes, you are at risk of developing diabetic eye disease, which can lead to vision loss or even blindness.

If you have diabetes, you are at risk of developing diabetic eye disease. This resource center will walk you through your risks, how diabetic eye disease is diagnosed, the different forms of diabetic eye disease, as well as how to maintain your eye health.

What is diabetic eye disease?

Everyone with diabetes can develop diabetic eye disease. But some groups are affected more than others.

Diabetic eye disease includes:

  • Diabetic retinopathy: Damage to the blood vessels in the retina
  • Cataract: Clouding of the lens of the eye
  • Glaucoma: Increase in fluid pressure inside the eye that leads to optic nerve damage and loss of vision.

 

What are the numbers?

According to the National Institute of Health, 7.7 million people ages 40 and older have diabetic retinopathy, and they estimate that the number will reach 11 million people by 2030.

The good news is that 95% of severe vision loss from diabetic retinopathy can be prevented by early detection, timely treatment, and appropriate follow-up.

Who is at risk?

Anyone with type 1 or type 2 diabetes can develop diabetic eye disease, and the longer you have diabetes, the greater your risk.African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Hispanics/Latinos, and older adults are specifically at higher risk of losing vision or going blind from diabetes. The numbers are alarming and growing steadily. For example, according to the study Vision Problems in the U.S. 2012:

  • African Americans: More than 800,000 African Americans have diabetic retinopathy, and this number will likely exceed 1 million by 2030. 
  • Hispanics/Latinos: 1.2 million Hispanics/Latinos have diabetic retinopathy, and this number is projected to increase to approximately 3 million people by 2030.
  • Older Adults: 7.7 million people age 40 and older have diabetic retinopathy, and this number is projected to increase to approximately 11 million people by 2030.

Cataract also develops at an earlier age in people with diabetes. And a person with diabetes is nearly twice as likely to get glaucoma as other adults.

Fortunately, early detection, timely treatment, and appropriate follow-up care can help reduce severe vision loss from diabetes by 95%.

How is it diagnosed?

People with diabetes should have regular eye exams, including a comprehensive dilated eye exam.

Why? Diabetic eye disease has no warning signs. A comprehensive dilated eye exam is the only way to find the disease early so it can be treated before it causes vision loss or blindness.

Regular comprehensive dilated eye exams can help make sure your eyes are healthy and you are seeing your best. If you have diabetes, you should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year to detect diabetic eye disease in its early stages.

This exam may not be part of an eye exam for glasses or contacts, so be sure to ask your eye care professional about getting a comprehensive dilated exam. To watch a short video, click here.

Learn more about what an eye care professional sees during a dilated eye exam at www.nei.nih.gov/eyeexam

Updated on: October 28, 2015
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Diabetic Eye Disease: Retinopathy
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