Diabetic eye disease


Understanding diabetic eye disease1,2

Diabetic eye disease refers to conditions such as diabetic retinopathy (DR) and diabetic macular edema (DME).

These often result from uncontrolled high blood sugar levels and can lead to vision loss if left untreated.

If you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one, talk to your doctor and scroll to find out more.

Here are some of the key terms we use when talking about diabetic eye disease:

  • Diabetic
    A person is diabetic when they have diabetes, a disease that occurs when blood sugar levels are too high.
  • Retinopathy
    Damage to the retina, the light-detecting part of the eye.
  • Macular
    Affecting a part of the retina called the macula which is responsible for central vision.
  • Edema
    Build up of fluid that causes blurred and reduced vision.
  • Central vision
    The part of your vision you use to focus clearly on something directly in front of you, like reading a book.
  • Peripheral vision
    The part of your vision you use to gather rough information about your surroundings, like navigating through a crowd.

Symptoms of diabetic eye disease3

When it comes to diabetic eye disease, you may not experience symptoms until it progresses further.

While symptoms may vary from person to person, they’re usually a combination of those shown below:


Blurred vision

Your vision may become less clear than it once was.


Confusion between colours

You may struggle to distinguish between light and dark shades.


Patches of vision loss

You may start to see ‘floating’ dark spots or lines in your vision.

Diabetic eye disease risk factors4

Here are the key risk factors for diabetic eye disease to bear in mind:


All types of diabetes

If you have any type of diabetes, you could develop DR.


Uncontrolled high blood sugar

If your blood sugar levels are high, you increase your risk of developing DR or DME.


Duration of diabetes

The longer you have diabetes, the greater your chance of developing DR or DME.



Smoking can increase your risk of developing DR or DME.


High blood pressure

If your blood pressure is high, this can cause blockages in the tiny blood vessels of the eye.



If DR or DME runs in your family, you’re more at risk of developing these conditions.

How does diabetic eye disease affect the eye?

Healthy eye

Healthy eye


The retina, at the back of the eye, detects light. This information is sent to the brain to be processed as sight. In a healthy eye, the macula is the central part of the retina responsible for clear vision.3

Diabetic eye disease

Eye with diabetic eye disease


This image is meant to show you one of the symptoms you may experience. Symptoms can vary depending on the severity level of the disease and will be unique for each person. If you are concerned about your vision, talk to your doctor.

Uncontrolled high blood sugar in diabetic eye disease damages blood vessels in the retina. This causes swelling and a build-up of fluid, which affects vision.

Two types of diabetic eye disease1,2

There are two types of diabetic eye disease, including conditions like DR and DME.




The early stage is called DR.

Not all people with DR experience changes in vision until this disease progresses.

That’s why it’s important for people with diabetes to watch out for any changes in vision, no matter how small.


macular edema


The later stage is called DME.

Over time, DR can turn into DME as the retina becomes more damaged.

50% of people with DR develop DME.2

Diabetic retinopathy2

Diabetic retinopthay (DR) is an eye condition that can cause vision loss in people with diabetes.


How does DR develop?

  • Sugar blocks tiny blood vessels in the retina.
  • Due to the blockage, these blood vessels start to leak fluid or bleed.
  • This leads to swelling and blocks the blood supply to some parts of the retina.

If you have DR, you might not experience any vision problems until complications occur.

Diabetic macular edema2

Over time, DR can lead to diabetic macular edema (DME).

How does DME develop?

  • In DME, damaged blood vessels start to leak into the retina.
  • This can lead to a build-up of fluid in the eye which can cause swelling, otherwise known as edema.
  • When this swelling happens in the macula, it leads to blurred or weakened vision.

We see you

Dealing with vision loss can sometimes feel overwhelming. That’s why we’re here to help guide you along your journey: making the most of your vision so that you can keep doing all of the things that make you, you. Explore our tips and tricks for living with low vision.

Monitoring your vision

While you might find that you’ve adapted well to life with vision loss, it’s important to keep monitoring your eye health closely.

The Amsler grid is a simple eye test that can help you do just that, whether you’re on the go or in the comfort of your own home.


1.Kellogg Eye Center. DME [Internet; cited March 2021]. Available from: https://www.umkelloggeye.org/conditions-treatments/diabetic-retinopathy

2.National Eye Institute. Facts About Diabetic Eye Disease. [Internet; cited March 2021]. Available from: https://nei.nih.gov/health/diabetic/retinopathy

3.American Academy of Ophthalmology. Diabetic Retinopathy Symptoms. [Internet; cited March  2021]. Available from: https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-is-diabetic-retinopathy

4.Lee R, Wong TY, Sabanayagam C. Epidemiology of diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema and related vision loss. Eye Vis. 2015; 2:17.