Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Diabetic Eye Disease

Conditions & Treatments

Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes can affect all organs in the body, including the eye. The most concerning of diabetic eye diseases is diabetic retinopathy, but diabetes can also lead to other problems, including dry eye syndrome, cataract, and glaucoma.

Diabetic retinopathy is a type of disease in which the small blood vessels in the retina (the back, inner layer of the eye that captures light and sends the signals to the optic nerve) are slowly damaged, causing them to swell and leak fluid. As the disease progresses, new, fragile blood vessels are formed, which can cause further leakage, scarring, and other damage. The onset of this condition can be hard for the patient to detect, which in its advanced stages can cause significant vision loss and even blindness.

Diabetics have to be especially careful to maintain healthy blood sugar levels in order to reduce the risk of developing retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is classified into different stages: mild, moderate, severe and proliferative. Beginning in the mild stage, the retina's blood vessels will begin to swell; by the second stage (moderate nonproliferative) these vessels will be completely blocked off, reducing the amount of nourishment to the retina. In the third stage, called severe nonproliferative retinopathy, the condition of the blocked blood vessels is so severe that in addition to lack of nourishment, the blood supply to the retina is also reduced. In the most advanced stage of retinopathy, called the proliferative stage, the blood vessels have become so weak that the possibility of blood leakage, or hemorrhage, is high. If blood leaks into the eye it can cause immediate blindness. It is this proliferative stage that needs to be treated aggressively to prevent further vision loss and blindness.