Warning Signs of Diabetic Eye Disease

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
blurry eye chart

When you have diabetes, it's important to be aware of various eye problems that could develop. Together, these problems are known as diabetic eye disease. They can occur in one or both eyes. Eye problems are about twice as common in people with diabetes as they are in people who don't have diabetes. 

Your eye doctor can usually see warning signs of an eye problem related to diabetes before you have symptoms. That’s why regular checkups are a must. You should see an eye specialist at least once a year and maybe more often. Early diagnosis and early treatment are the best ways to prevent vision loss. 

You should also know the warning signs of diabetic eye disease. They usually start before serious vision loss. If you notice any of these warning signs, contact your doctor.

Floating Spots

Floaters can be warning signs for the most common diabetes eye problems: diabetic retinopathy. Damage to blood vessels from high blood sugar can cause abnormal blood vessels to grow in the back of your eye (the retina). Your retina is made up of cells that send visual signals to your brain. The abnormal blood vessels can leak, with specks of blood floating inside your eye. If you see dark spots, let your doctor know right away. 

Blurred Vision

Blurred vision is another warning sign of diabetic retinopathy. Leaking blood vessels can cause the fluid in the back of the eye to become cloudy. They can also leak into a central area of the retina called the macula. The macula is responsible for giving you sharp vision. Both areas of leakage can cause blurring. 

Blurred vision also can be a warning sign of another diabetic eye problem: cataracts. Though cataracts can develop in most everyone as they age, cataracts are more common in people with diabetes. They also can occur at an earlier age. A cataract causes the lens behind the pupil of your eye to become cloudy. This lens needs to be clear to focus light to your retina. 

Color Changes

Color changes are another red flag for cataracts. As your lens becomes cloudy, it may change from clear to yellow or brown. You may notice your vision has a brownish tint. You also may find it hard to identify colors like blue or purple. Dark colors may appear black. The combination of tint and blurring can make it hard to see clearly. 

Loss of Side Vision

People with diabetes are more likely to develop glaucoma. Glaucoma causes fluid to build up in the front chamber of your eye. This puts pressure on the blood vessels in your retina, which can lead to the loss of your peripheral, or side, vision. Severe loss of peripheral vision is called tunnel vision. You can only see things right in front of you. 

Early Diagnosis and Treatment

Diabetic eye problems can start slowly. You may feel no pain. You may not notice any change in vision until some damage has already occurred. The earliest changes can only be found by an eye specialist doing a complete exam. That's why getting these checkups is so important to protect your vision. Regular exams can cut your chances of going blind by 95%. Early treatment is available for all kinds of diabetic eye disease. 

Also, tell your doctor right away if you notice any warning signs. And, work with your diabetes care team to keep your blood sugar under control. That's the best way to prevent or delay eye problems.

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  1. Facts About Diabetic Eye Disease. National Eye Institute. https://www.nei.nih.gov/health/diabetic/retinopathy

  2. Eye Complications. American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/eye-complications/

  3. Facts About Cataract. National Eye Institute. https://www.nei.nih.gov/health/cataract/cataract_facts 

  4. Facts About Glaucoma. National Eye Institute. https://www.nei.nih.gov/health/glaucoma/glaucoma_facts

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Apr 24
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