Eye Disease

For people living with type 1 diabetes (T1D), eye disease is a troubling reality—over 40 percent develop diabetic eye disease, sometimes resulting in blindness.

But early detection and timely, appropriate treatment can reduce the risk of blindness by over 95 percent.


How T1D Affects Eye Health

The retina is a thin layer of specialized nerve tissue on the back wall of the eye. It converts light into electric signals that are transmitted to the brain where the images we “see” are generated. The center of the retina, called the macula, is responsible for the sharp clear vision needed for reading and other daily tasks. Abnormal leaking from blood vessels damaged by diabetes can lead to swelling of the macula and vision loss.

Diabetes can also cause direct damage to nerve cells of the eye, including cells in the periphery of the retina. These changes stimulate the development of abnormal blood vessels, which are fragile and can bleed and further destroy the nerve tissue around them, scarring the retina and putting people at high risk for low vision and blindness. High levels of blood sugar, as in diabetes, damage the blood vessels and exacerbate the process.

Types of Eye Disease

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is one of the most common complications of T1D. DR is a progressive condition, often the result of chronic high blood-sugar levels, which can damage the blood vessels in the retina of the eye and cause excess blood vessel growth. In advanced stages, contracting scar tissue may cause the retina to detach, which can lead to permanent vision loss.

Diabetic Macular Edema

Diabetic macular edema (DME) is a common, but not the only, consequence of diabetic retinopathy. DME is the buildup of fluid at the back of the eye near the center of the retina (called the macula). The fluid causes the macula to swell and thicken, negatively affecting vision.

Preventing Eye Disease

Keep your blood sugar in range

Schedule annual eye exams with a retinal specialist

Manage blood pressure and cholesterol

Consult with a retinal specialist if you encounter any vision issue (floaters, etc.)

Consult with your doctor regarding early treatment options for preventive measures


Treatments for Eye Disease

There are now many effective therapies for diabetic eye disease, many of which were made possible by JDRF-funded research.

Treatments for diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema include:

Anti-VEGF Therapy

Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a protein whose function is to promote the growth of new blood vessels. In people with diabetic retinopathy, VEGF becomes overactive, and the new, fragile blood vessels can rupture and leak fluid. JDRF played a critical part in clinical studies that led to the approval of two therapies—Lucentis® (ranibizumab) and Eylea® (aflibercept)—that inhibit VEGF and allow healthy regrowth of damaged blood vessels in the eyes.


A laser treatment that heals a damaged retina in someone with vision loss. It is not yet able, however, to restore full eyesight.

Steroid Injections

Doses of an anti-inflammatory drug that protect blood vessels in the eye. Yet some people with T1D still develop other eye diseases such as glaucoma and cataracts.

Download our Diabetic Eye Disease one-pager for more information on the latest JDRF-funded research advances in eye health.

Mary Tyler Moore Vision Initiative

Ensuring eye complications research continues, accelerating cures for low vision and blindness, and prevention treatments for diabetic eye disease is important to JDRF and our T1D community.

JDRF is supporting additional research to find new ways to prevent the development of diabetic eye disease, stop its progression to preserve visual function, and restore lost vision through the Mary Tyler Moore Vision Initiative, a special initiative of the Mary Tyler Moore and S. Robert Levine, MD, Charitable Foundation and JDRF, to honor Mary’s contributions to diabetes awareness and research.

Editor’s note: This content was created in collaboration with our partners at Beyond Type 1. Explore additional resources about eye disease on the Beyond Type 1 website.

You Are Not Alone

Living with the burn of T1D can be overwhelming at times. But you’re never alone. The JDRF community has your back.