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Diabetic Eye Disease

What is diabetic eye disease?

Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye conditions that can affect people with diabetes. High levels of blood sugar over time can damage the tiny blood vessels in the eye, leading to vision problems and even blindness if left untreated.

The risk of developing diabetic eye disease increases if you have high blood sugar that is untreated and high blood pressure that is untreated. The risk of developing diabetic eye disease increases the longer you have diabetes.

The most common types of diabetic eye disease include:

  • Diabetic retinopathy: This occurs when damage to the blood vessels in the retina causes them to leak or become blocked. This can cause new blood vessels to form and lead to vision loss or blindness if not treated. One in three people with diabetes older than age 40, have symptoms of diabetic retinopathy.
  • Diabetic macular edema: Diabetes can cause swelling of the macula, the part of the retina responsible for central vision. It can cause blurred vision and can also lead to vision loss or blindness. Most people with macular edema also have other signs of diabetic eye disease.
  • Cataracts: People with diabetes are more likely to develop cataracts, a clouding of the lens in the eye that can cause blurry vision. People with diabetes develop cataracts sooner than people without diabetes and are at twice the risk of developing cataracts as people without diabetes.
  • Glaucoma: People with diabetes are also more likely to develop glaucoma, a condition that damages the optic nerve and can cause blindness if left untreated.

In fact, even people with prediabetes can have damage to those tiny blood vessels in the eye. It’s important for someone with diabetes to get regular full, dilated eye exams so your Coastal Skin and Eye Institute ophthalmologist can detect and treat any eye problems early before they lead to vision loss or blindness. It is also important to manage your diabetes to maintain eye health.

What are the symptoms of diabetic eye disease?

In the early stages, diabetic eye disease may not cause any noticeable symptoms. However, as the condition progresses, symptoms may include:

  • Blurred or distorted vision
  • Frequent vision fluctuations
  • Floaters or spots in your vision
  • Dark areas or vision loss
  • Poor colors vision
  • Flashes of light

However, these symptoms can represent several eye diseases.  This is why it is important to have an eye exam at least once a year and whenever you experience any of these symptoms. Early detection and treatment can prevent or slow progression of vision loss.

How is diabetic eye disease treated?

The treatment of diabetic eye disease depends on the specific type and severity of the condition. Here are some common treatment options:

  • Control blood sugar levels: Keeping blood sugar levels and blood pressure within a healthy ranges is the most important step in managing diabetic eye disease.
  • Laser treatment: Laser treatment can be used to treat diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema. The laser is used to seal leaking blood vessels or to shrink abnormal blood vessels in the retina. Several treatments may be needed.
  • Anti-VEGF injections: Anti-VEGF drugs can be injected into the eye to reduce swelling and leakage of blood vessels in the retina and block the growth of abnormal blood vessels. The eye will be numbed before injections. These injections can be effective in treating diabetic macular edema. These injections can stop further vision loss and may even improve vision. Several rounds of treatments may be necessary.
  • Vitrectomy surgery: In some cases, a vitrectomy surgery may be needed to remove blood or scar tissue from the eye. This procedure involves removing the gel-like substance inside the eye (the vitreous) and replacing it with a clear solution.
  • Cataract surgery: If diabetic eye disease has caused cataracts, surgery may be necessary to remove the clouded lens which will be replace with an artificial lens.
  • Glaucoma treatment: Glaucoma can be treated with medications, laser therapy, or surgery to reduce pressure in the eye.

It’s important to remember that treatment for diabetic eye disease is most effective when the condition is detected early. Regular eye exams and close monitoring of blood sugar levels can help prevent or slow the progression of vision loss. If you already have some vision loss, ask your Coastal Skin and Eye Institute ophthalmologist for advice and assistance.

Contact Coastal Skin and Eye Institute at our Encinitas or Carmel Mountain office to schedule a consultation to learn more about diabetic eye disease and receive the correct diagnosis and all your treatment options.

Coastal Skin & Eye Institute/Grossmont Dermatology