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Advances in Treating & Preventing Eye Disease Associated with Diabetes

While diabetes remains a leading cause of vision loss, it is important to know that there are treatments available that preserve vision and significantly reduce the risk of vision loss from diabetes.  Clinicians and researchers have made many advances in treating and preventing eye disease associated with diabetes. We truly have entered a new era of hope that serious eye damage can be treated and prevented.

Over the past 25 years, major, nation-wide clinical studies have demonstrated methods to help preserve vision and in some cases restore vision.  These studies are:

(1) The Diabetic Retinopathy Study, which demonstrated that scatter (panretinal) laser treatment is effective in reducing the risk of vision loss from proliferative diabetic retinopathy.

(2) The Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study, which clarified the most opportune time to initiate scatter laser treatment, showed the value of laser treatment for macular edema, and increased our understanding of the natural history of diabetic retinopathy.

(3) The Diabetic Retinopathy Vitrectomy Study, which showed that vitrectomy surgery is useful in restoring vision that has been lost from vitreous hemorrhage.

(4) The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial, which showed that intensive control of blood glucose levels reduces the risk of onset and progression of diabetic retinopathy for persons with type 1 diabetes.

(5) The United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study, which showed that intensive control of blood glucose levels reduces the risk of onset and progression of diabetic retinopathy for persons with type 2 diabetes.

As a result of the knowledge gained from these studies, the risk of severe vision loss from diabetic retinopathy can be reduced from over 60%, to less than 5% if a person has regular eye exams and laser treatment as needed.  The risk of moderate vision loss from macular edema can be reduced by 50% or more, from nearly 30% to approximately 12%. 

Moreover, clinical studies show that better control of diabetes reduces the risk of onset and progression of diabetic retinopathy.  As a result, it is important for all persons with diabetes to work with their healthcare providers to maintain good control of their diabetes and other health problems, such as hypertension and lipid levels, and to have a comprehensive eye examination at least annually by a doctor trained and experienced in managing diabetic eye disease.

Page last updated: December 17, 2014