The Link Between Diabetes and Eye Health

Having diabetes doesn’t mean that you’re sure to develop vision problems; however, it does mean that your risk of developing glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and diabetic macular edema is greater than that of a person who doesn’t have diabetes. There are important steps you can take to protect your vision.


Cataracts are not an unusual eye health issue. In fact, among American adults aged 75 and older, about half have cataracts. However, if you have diabetes, you’re two to five times more likely to develop cataracts, and they may develop earlier than average.


Glaucoma is a group of diseases, rather than one specific disease. Any of the forms of glaucoma damage the optic nerve that delivers information from your eyes to your brain. Having diabetes means having double the risk of glaucoma.

Diabetic retinopathy

Like glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy is an umbrella term that’s used to describe a group of conditions. Your retina lines the back of your eye and is filled with tiny, light sensitive blood vessels.

Diabetic retinopathy damages those blood vessels, causing them to weaken, bulge, and sometimes leak. This stage of the disease is called nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, and may be mild, moderate, or severe.

As the disease progresses, new blood vessels begin to grow. The new blood vessels are abnormal and cause serious vision issues. This is proliferative diabetic retinopathy.

The longer you have diabetes, the greater your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. About 40-45% of people with diabetes have diabetic retinopathy, but only half of them are aware of this danger to their vision.

Diabetic macular edema

Part of your retina is an area called the macula. Your macula allows you to see clearly straight ahead. It’s responsible for you being able to read, drive, or recognize faces.

When fluid builds up in your macula, you have diabetic macular edema, which is a type of diabetic retinopathy. Roughly half of the people who have diabetic retinopathy eventually develop diabetic macular edema, which is the most common cause of vision loss among those with diabetic retinopathy.

Protecting your eyes

Just as you may not have had any symptoms of diabetes before you were aware you had it, most people don’t have any symptoms of cataracts, glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy. You may not be aware you have one of these conditions until it begins to affect your sight.

If you lose your vision due to diabetic retinopathy, you may not be able to recover it, even with proper treatment. But, if the disease is identified early and treated, your risk of losing your sight is reduced by 95%.

The most important step you can take to protect your vision as a diabetic is to have regular, thorough eye exams by licensed professionals, such as the doctors at Cooper Eye Care. Our staff understands the elevated risks you face, and their expertise is the key to keeping your eyes healthy!

If you have questions about diabetes and eye health, or if it’s time for your regular exam, book an appointment by phone or with our online scheduling tool. We’re happy to help you maintain your sight and keep your eyes as healthy as possible.

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