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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Visual Impairment and Diabetic Retinopathy

What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is the eye condition that results from diabetes, both type I insulin dependent, and type II, typically non-insulin dependent. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when blood vessels stop feeding the retina properly. In its early stages, the blood vessels may leak fluid in the retina, which can affect the macula, the entire retina, or the vitreous (the clear, gel-like substance that fills the interior of the eye, and can distort vision). In the later stages of the condition, new vessels may grow and send blood into the center of the eye, causing serious vision loss.

People with diabetes are at greater risk of experiencing vision loss from cataracts and glaucoma as well as diabetic retinopathy. Approximately 40 percent of people with diabetes have at least mild retinopathy. The incidence increases with the disease's duration and when blood glucose cannot be controlled.

Signs of Diabetic Retinopathy

The most common signs of diabetic retinopathy are:

  • Changes in refraction, variable vision, or focus.

  • Overall blurred or hazy vision making reading difficult because print is distorted.

  • Increased sensitivity to bright light and glare.

  • Faulty color vision.

  • Clouding of the vitreous through which light normally passes from the lens through the vitreous to the retina.

Diabetic retinopathy can result in blindness and also increases an individual's likelihood of developing cataracts.

How Common Is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Individuals who are Hispanic, African American, and Native American are more likely to develop diabetes. Individuals with these ethnic heritages should have routine medical and eye care at regular intervals, preferably annually.

Retaining Independence

People who have experienced vision loss from glaucoma can retain their independence, productivity, and quality of life by learning to use specialized devices and techniques to carry out their daily activities. These may include using special lenses that can help those who have remaining sight make the best use of available vision, and using specialized techniques that enable people to manage home and work responsibilities, travel using mass transportation, and carry out a host of other activities.


American Academy of Ophthalmology
655 Beach Street, P.O. Box 7424
San Francisco, CA 94109-7424
Telephone: 415-561-8500
Fax: 415-561-8533
Web site:

American Foundation for the Blind
National Aging Program
11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300
New York, NY 10001
Telephone: 800-232-5463 or 212-502-7634
Fax: 212-502-7771
Web site:

American Optometric Association
243 Lindbergh Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63141
Telephone: Toll-free 888-396-EYES (3937) or 314-991-4100
Fax: 314-991-4101
Web site:

Council of Citizens with Low Vision International
c/o American Council of the Blind
1155 15th Street N.W., Suite 720
Washington, DC 20005
Telephone: 800-733-2258
Fax: 317-251-6588

Lighthouse International
111 E. 59th Street
New York, NY 10022
Telephone: 800-334-5497
Fax: 212-821-9727 or 9728
Web site:

National Eye Institute
National Eye Health Education Program
2020 Vision Place
Bethesda, MD 20892-3655
Telephone: 301-496-5248
Fax: 301-402-1065
Web site:

National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
Telephone: 410-659-9314
Fax: 410-685-5653
Web site:

Prevent Blindness America
500 East Remington Road
Schaumburg, IL 60173
Telephone: 800-221-3004 or 847-843-2020
Fax: 847-843-8458
Web site:

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