Categories: ConditionsResearch

Diabetes and the Eye

Diabetes Eye Disease USCDiabetes is a group of metabolic diseases related to high blood glucose (blood sugar) as a result of inadequate insulin production or the body’s inability to respond to insulin. People who are overweight, have a family history of the disease, or have high blood pressure are more at risk of developing diabetes, especially over the age of 45. In addition to causing heart trouble, nerve damage, and kidney disease, diabetes is also the number one cause of blindness among Americans.

Unfortunately, many diabetics and those at risk of developing the disease are not aware of the potentially blinding effects of diabetes. In order to help increase awareness for proper eye health among diabetics and preventative measures for those at risk, USC Roski Eye Institute has compiled the following vital information.

What is Diabetic Eye Disease?

Diabetes can affect people by causing early cataracts and severe glaucoma.  The most common and serious condition caused by diabetes is diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema (DME).  DME manifests from diabetic retinopathy and results in swelling in an area of the retina called the macula.

Diabetic retinopathy affects the blood vessels in the retina, which is the light-sensitive membrane in the back of the eye that helps register and process images. As the disease progresses, the blood vessels may swell and leak, become blocked, or form abnormal vessels on the surface of the retina. When the delicate blood vessels inside the retina are damaged, the retina itself can become distorted or can detach, resulting in permanent vision loss. “Many patients with diabetes have subtle early changes on their exam which may never manifest in permanent vision loss, if treated early by tighter blood sugar control in cooperation with their diabetes doctor or sometimes using clinic based eye procedures such as laser photocoagulation,” says Dr. Damien Rodger MD, PhD, one of the vitreoretinal surgeons and uveitis specialists at the USC Roski Eye Institute. “However, if these patients are seen later in the course of their eye disease, they often need more complicated surgeries to reattach their retinas, which can often prevent further visual decline but may not improve their vision dramatically. Early screening as part of their overall diabetes care is critical in decreasing the burden of diabetic eye disease.”

Steps to Prevent Diabetic Eye Disease

One of the most important things to understand about diabetic eye problems is that there are typically no noticeable symptoms during the early stages of development. While it is possible to treat cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy, vision loss can be reduced or prevented more effectively when diagnosed as soon as possible. Once the signs and symptoms become apparent, the risk of significant vision loss becomes more substantial.

Signs of diabetic retinopathy can include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Spots or strings floating in your vision
  • Poor night vision
  • Black areas in your vision
  • Vision loss

If you have type I or type II diabetes, it is crucial that you maintain strict control of your blood pressure and blood sugar levels in addition to seeing an ophthalmologist for at least yearly eye exams and diabetic retinopathy screenings, if not more frequently depending on the results of your assessment or treatment.

It is highly recommended that those who do not have diabetes continue to schedule complete eye exams every one to three years, and schedule more frequent exams as they get older and depending on their potential risk factors.

Schedule an Appointment at USC Roski Eye Institute Today

The exceptional eye doctors at USC Roski Eye Institute are experts at diagnosing and treating a wide variety of eye conditions, including diabetic retinopathy. To receive a comprehensive eye exam and ensure that your vision is protected from diabetes-related conditions, please complete our online contact form or call 323-442-6335 today!

To learn more about the health services at the USC Roski Eye Institute or to support the Institute with a tax-deductible gift, please contact Rebecca Melville, senior director of development, via email at or by calling USC Roski Eye Institute.

Next, read How Reliable are Online Eye Exams?

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