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Diabetic Eye Disease (cont.)

Can diabetes cause blindness?

Blindness is strictly defined as the state of being totally sightless in both eyes. A completely blind individual is unable to see at all. The word blindness, however, is commonly used as a relative term to signify visual impairment, or low vision, meaning that even with eyeglasses, contact lenses, medicine or surgery, a person does not see well. Diabetic eye disease can cause permanent visual loss, which may be mild or severe. Given modern treatment options, it is unusual today for diabetic eye disease to cause the total inability to see. Proliferative diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema, if untreated can result in significant loss of vision.

What are the symptoms of blindness?

Blindness from diabetic eye disease is similar to blindness from other causes. All people who are blind or have visual impairment have the common symptom of difficulty seeing. People with similar levels of visual loss may have very different responses to that symptom. If one is born blind, there is much less adjustment to a non-seeing world than there is for people who lose their vision late in life, where there may be limited ability to cope with that visual loss. Support systems available to individuals and their psychological makeup will also modify the symptom of lack of sight. People who lose their vision suddenly, rather than over a period of years, also can have more difficulty adjusting to their visual loss.

Associated symptoms, such a discomfort in the eyes, awareness of the eyes, foreign body sensation, and pain in the eyes or discharge from the eyes may be present or absent, depending on the underlying cause of the blindness.

The visual loss associated with diabetic eye disease, if due to vitreous hemorrhage in proliferative diabetic retinopathy, may be sudden in onset. It may clear slowly, as the blood obstructing the vision is absorbed by the body. A person who is blind from diabetic retinopathy may have no visible signs of any abnormalities when sitting in a chair and resting. Depending on the degree of blindness, the affected individual will exhibit signs of visual loss when attempting to ambulate. Some blind people have learned to look directly at the person they are speaking with, so it is not obvious they are blind.

What are the signs and symptoms of diabetic eye disease?

Patient Comments
  • If the person has fairly large, rapid shifts in their blood sugar levels, they may notice that their vision becomes blurry. This may occur prior to the diagnosis of diabetes mellitus, or it may develop after the initiation of treatment or a change in treatment of diabetes mellitus. This difficulty with vision or focusing will disappear once blood sugar levels have been stable for approximately one week.
  • Even if the person has background diabetic retinopathy or early proliferative diabetic retinopathy, it is possible that they may not have any symptoms, or they may experience mild-to-severe blurring or vision loss. Many people with severe diabetic eye disease may not realize that they have a vision problem until it is too late and permanent damage has already occurred.
  • If the person has a cataract, vision may become blurry or hazy. At night, the person may experience glare from oncoming lights.
  • If the person has glaucoma, they may not experience any symptoms until a significant loss of vision has already occurred.
  • In diabetic eye disease due to diabetic retinopathy, symptoms of pain or discomfort in the eyes are usually not present.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/13/2016

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Diabetic Eye Disease:

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Diabetic Eye Disease - Causes and Types

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Macular Edema, Diabetic »

Over the last several decades, there have been a few large-scale trials that have influenced the management of diabetic complications in the eye.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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