There may be a link between age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetes. Some research suggests that diabetes and antidiabetic medications may increase a person’s risk of AMD. However, some treatments may reduce the risk.

An elderly woman looking over her shoulder sitting in a chairShare on Pinterest
kali9/Getty Images

Macular degeneration typically refers to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This condition results in damage to the macula, which is part of the retina.

Diabetes is a condition that impairs the body’s ability to process blood sugar. This condition can result in various health complications, including vision problems. Typically, eye-related issues occur due to high blood sugar levels damaging blood vessels in the retina, causing diabetic retinopathy (DR).

AMD and diabetic eye problems, such as DR, can share similar features and risk factors. Although more research is necessary, growing evidence suggests that living with diabetes may increase a person’s AMD risk.

This article discusses the relationship between macular degeneration and diabetes.

Macular degeneration is a condition that affects the macula. The macula forms part of the retina in the back of the eye and is responsible for central vision, color vision, and the fine details of vision.

There are two types of AMD: dry and wet. Most cases of AMD are the dry type, in which the macula becomes thin and dry, causing it to lose function. Wet AMD occurs when new, abnormal blood vessels form and begin to bleed and leak fluid, altering the macula.

In the early stages, the condition does not often present with symptoms. However, as it progresses, a person may notice mild blurriness or have difficulty seeing in low lighting. People with late stage macular degeneration may experience a blurry area in their central vision, colors appearing less bright, and straight lines looking wavy. If AMD leads to scarring in the central part of the visual field, it can prevent a person from being able to read.

AMD and DR share similar features, which may indicate a relationship between the two conditions. A 2018 study and a 2022 review suggest that individuals with DR have an increased risk of developing AMD.

Additional research also suggests that diabetes and the use of antidiabetic drugs are associated with AMD risk.

However, a 2021 systematic review and a 2022 retrospective study indicate that metformin, a common treatment option for type 2 diabetes, may reduce the risk of AMD.

In addition to making certain lifestyle changes, such as exercising more frequently and adopting a well-balanced diet, a person with diabetes can use medications to help manage their blood sugar levels.

Various factors, such as the type of diabetes, will determine the most suitable type of medication. The options may include different types of insulin and oral medications, such as metformin.

In some cases, certain individuals may also be candidates for surgical treatments, including bariatric surgery.

Learn more about managing diabetes.

The treatment options for macular degeneration will depend on the stage and type of the disease.

Currently, there is no treatment for dry AMD. However, similar to diabetes, lifestyle changes such as eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and quitting smoking can help. Taking certain supplements may also help prevent or slow the condition’s progression.

Learn more about food and vitamins for eye health.

The National Eye Institute (NEI) conducted the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2) to evaluate the effects of vitamins on the progression of macular degeneration and other eye conditions.

The AREDS study concluded that the following vitamins are beneficial:

The treatment for AMD may involve injecting medication, known as anti-VEGF drugs, into the eye. Another option is laser surgery.

A doctor will often use these treatments to address many types of eye problems related to diabetes.

Learn whether treatments can reverse macular degeneration.

People should take steps to maintain their eye health. These steps can include:

  • Attending regular eye exam appointments: Many vision problems can develop without noticeable symptoms. As such, it is advisable to see an eye specialist regularly.
  • Controlling blood sugar levels: For individuals with diabetes, managing A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels can help maintain eye health and prevent vision complications.
  • Following a balanced diet: A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, particularly dark leafy greens, can benefit eye health. Consuming fish high in omega-3 fatty acids may also be helpful.
  • Maintaining a moderate weight: Obesity can be a risk factor for macular degeneration and diabetes.
  • Quitting smoking: There are many links between smoking and health conditions, including vision problems and the progression of macular degeneration.
  • Knowing family history: Many eye conditions run in families. Knowing this information can help eye doctors determine a person’s risk of vision problems.
  • Wearing protective eyewear and practicing eye safety: Using appropriate eyewear can help protect the eyes.

Additionally, according to the NEI, people can lower their risk of macular degeneration or slow its progression by:

Diabetic eye disease is a term to describe a group of eye conditions that can affect people with diabetes. These conditions include:

  • Diabetic retinopathy: This condition is the most common cause of vision loss among those living with diabetes. High glucose levels damage the delicate blood vessels in the retina, which is the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye.
  • Glaucoma: When fluid pressure rises in the eye, it can damage the optic nerve and lead to vision loss. Some types of glaucoma are more common among people living with diabetes.
  • Cataracts: A cataract describes a cloudy area in the eye’s lens. People living with diabetes have an increased risk of developing this condition.
  • Diabetic macula edema: This condition is similar to macular degeneration, but it occurs due to diabetes rather than older age. High blood sugar results in leaky vessels and fluid accumulation in the macula, which causes the macula to swell and leads to blurry vision.

Learn more about the importance of regular eye checks for people with diabetes.

It is not uncommon for people with diabetes to develop eye problems. Diabetes and macular degeneration share similar risk factors, such as obesity and older age. Some evidence also suggests that living with diabetes may increase AMD risk.

By controlling their blood sugar levels and making lifestyle changes, such as sticking to a varied eating plan and exercising regularly, a person can manage the condition and help keep their eyes healthy.

Macular degeneration is an eye condition that affects the macula and may result in a loss of central vision. A potential complication of diabetes is the development of vision problems.

Some research indicates that living with diabetes and using antidiabetic medications are risk factors for developing AMD. However, other evidence suggests that metformin, a drug that treats type 2 diabetes, may help reduce AMD risk.

A person may reduce their risk of diabetes complications that affect the vision by attending regular eye exams, maintaining a balanced diet, and protecting and resting the eyes.