Treatment Options for Diabetes Eye Complications

woman's eye

Diabetes can cause eye complications, but prevention and treatment options can help avoid vision loss.

Diabetes can cause health complications, including vision loss. Because diabetes progresses over time, these complications are more likely to develop the longer a person has diabetes. Researchers at CDC studied trends in eye-related diabetes complications and treatment options.

What did this study examine?

This study measured eye-related diabetes complications, for the period of 2009-2018, in Medicare patients age 65 and older. Researchers also looked at how treatments for diabetes eye complications have changed over this time, as well as at how treatments differed by race.

What’s important about this study?

This study highlights how trends in treatments for diabetes eye complications have changed over time. This information is key for clinicians to ensure the latest standard of care and is helpful for people with diabetes to understand the treatment options.

What terms should I know?

This study examined four diabetes treatment measures:

  • Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is a common complication of diabetes that damages blood vessels in the eyes. DR can be mild to moderate, or it can be more severe, known as vision-threatening diabetic retinopathy (VTDR).
  • Diabetic macular edema (DME) happens in about half of people with any type of DR. With DME, blood vessels in the eyes leak and start to swell, which can cause vision loss or blindness.
  • Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor injections, or anti-VEGF injections, are the first-line (most recommended) treatment for DME because of their ease of application and their effectiveness.
  • Laser photocoagulation is a procedure used to treat diabetes-related eye complications.

What were the results?

  • Roughly 1 in 4 Medicare patients had diabetes. Researchers found that the rate of eye complications for those with diabetes increased by 54% during the period 2009-2018.
  • For people with DME, anti-VEGF injections increased from 16% to 35%. For people with VTDR and DME, anti-VEGF injections increased from 20% to 48%.
  • Use of laser photocoagulation decreased from 46% to 13% for people with DME, and from 54% to 20% for people who had VTDR and DME.
  • Researchers saw racial differences in vision complications from diabetes that did not match treatment trends. People from racial and ethnic minority groups had higher rates of DME or VTDR, but lower rates of anti-VEGF injections than White people. In contrast, White people had the lowest rates of DME or VTDR, but the highest rates of anti-VEGF injections. These findings reflect a health disparity, which is a difference in health based on social or economic status, location, or environment.

What is the main message?

This study shows which treatments are used for vision complications, and how anti-VEGF injections have grown in popularity. CDC continues to promote diabetes prevention and management, since diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in US adults ages 20-74. People with diabetes are urged to receive annual dilated eye exams for early detection and timely treatment.

Page last reviewed: September 15, 2022