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If a person has diabetes, their body does not use and store sugar properly. This can cause changes in the body’s blood vessels, and the veins and arteries that carry blood throughout the body. It can affect vision by causing cataracts, glaucoma and damage to the blood vessels inside the eye.Some of the effects of diabetes on the eyes When the blood vessels in the retina are damaged, they may leak blood or fluid and develop fragile, abnormal blood vessels that can leak blood into the eye causing vision loss and even blindness. When these changes in the blood vessels occur, it is a complication of diabetes called diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness among adults in the U.S., and between 40 to 45% of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy. People with untreated diabetes are 25 times more at risk for blindness than the general population.

Diabetic retinopathy often has no early warning signs or symptoms, which means a person may never notice changes in their vision in the early stages. That’s why a regular complete dilated eye exam is so important as often it’s the only way to find changes inside the eye from diabetes. To prevent progression of diabetic retinopathy, people with diabetes should control their levels of blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol as well as avoid smoking. The longer a person has diabetes, the more the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy increases.

About 80% of people who have had diabetes for at least 15 years have some blood vessel damage to their retina. People with Type 1, or juvenile, diabetes are more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy at a younger age, but all people with diabetes – both Type 1 and Type 2 – are at risk. It’s also important to know that if you have diabetes, today with improved methods of diagnosis and treatment, only a small percentage of people who develop diabetic retinopathy have serious vision problems.


  • Diabetic retinopathy may be present without any symptoms.
  • Early detection is the best protection against loss of vision.
  • People with diabetes should be examined by an ophthalmologist at least once a year. More frequent exams may be necessary once diabetic retinopathy has been diagnosed.
  • With regular exams and careful monitoring, ophthalmologists can begin treatment before sight is affected.