Diabetes affects vision differently than first thought

Doctors have long focused on preventing blindness in their patients with diabetes by screening for and treating diabetic retinopathy, where vision loss occurs due to microvascular damage to the retina. But now researchers at the University of Iowa and the University of Amsterdam have discovered that the damage in the retina first affects the nerves—retinal diabetic neuropathy—and then the blood vessels.

Michael Abramoff

“Even people with diabetes who never get retinopathy can still develop this (nerve) damage, and after many years, damage may be severe, similar to glaucoma,” says Michael Abramoff, MD, PhD, UI professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences, a member of the Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research, and senior author on the study in the journal PNAS.

A better understanding of the sequence of damage may lead to new treatments that focus on preventing the nerve damage and also preventing retinopathy.