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Diabetic related eye disease refers to a group of eye problems that people with diabetes may face as a complication of this chronic condition. These eye problems can cause severe vision loss or even blindness and include diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema (DME), cataract, and glaucoma. Diabetic related eye disease is a leading cause of blindness and vision loss if not treated in time.

Diabetic retinopathy, the most common form of diabetic related eye disease, affects blood vessels in the retina—the light-sensitive layer of tissue in the back of your eye. Managing blood sugar levels is crucial because high blood sugar can damage these vessels. Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR), where blood vessels in the retina swell and leak, is the most common type. As it progresses, it can advance to proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR), where damaged blood vessels close off, causing new, abnormal vessels to grow in the retina, potentially leading to severe vision loss.

Diabetic macular edema, another form of diabetic related eye disease, involves the build-up of fluid in the macula—part of the retina that provides sharp, straight-ahead vision. The fluid makes the macula swell, blurring vision. As with other forms of diabetic related eye disease, controlling diabetes is vital to preventing DME.

People with diabetes are also more likely to develop cataracts, a clouding of the eye’s lens, at an earlier age than non-diabetics. The lens must be clear for the retina to receive a sharp image. If it is cloudy from a cataract, the image you see will be blurred. Glaucoma, another potential diabetic related eye disease, increases the pressure in the eye, leading to optic nerve damage and vision loss.

Regular eye exams are critical for those with diabetes. Early detection and treatment can limit the potential for significant vision loss from diabetic related eye disease. Maintaining good control of blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol can help reduce the risk of developing such diseases. If you have diabetes, schedule regular appointments with your eye doctor to monitor and manage any signs of diabetic related eye disease.