How Diabetes Affects the Eyes

Diabetes affects the pancreas, which in turn affects the body’s insulin and blood sugar levels. Most people already know there’s a connection between diabetes and heart disease, but few realize that the condition can affect their vision. Several eye problems can occur because of diabetes, and regular eye exams can detect these issues early on. Here, you’ll learn more about these conditions and their effects on your vision.

Diabetic Retinopathy

When the small blood vessels in the eyes begin to leak fluids, diabetic retinopathy is said to occur. The earliest symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include blurry vision and floaters. If these signs don’t go away with blood sugar control and regular eye exams, medications and certain treatments may help.

Blurred vision may temporarily occur due to elevated blood sugar levels. In some patients, it happens after high-carbohydrate meals; in others, it’s constant. No matter the frequency with which it occurs, the best way to treat blurred vision is to bring blood sugar back to a normal level. The condition may take several months to resolve itself, so proper diet and patience are essential.

In some instances, low blood sugar may cause double vision or blurred vision. While elevated blood sugar levels can change the shape of the lenses in a person’s eyes, low blood sugar does not. If your blurry vision is due to low blood sugar, a healthy snack or meal will quickly bring it back to normal.

DME (Diabetic Macular Edema)

DME is a disease brought on by the worsening of diabetic retinopathy. It’s possible to get diabetic macular edema at any stage in the progression of that condition. The area at the back of the eye, known as the macula, swells and causes DME. This part of the eye allows us to read, drive, and perform other tasks requiring clear straight-on vision.

The treatment for diabetic macular edema involves injecting anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) medications into the eye. These medicines block proteins that lead to increased blood vessel growth, and they’re designed to restore vision by reducing the level of fluid in the eyes. Even with these medicines, a diabetic must control his or her blood sugar level to keep DME from reoccurring.


Another vision issue commonly caused by diabetes is cataracts. A cataract occurs when the lens of the eye gets cloudy because of protein buildup. Though cataracts often occur with conditions other than diabetes, these patients are more likely to develop cataracts at earlier ages.

There are ways for patients to relieve cataract symptoms, such as obtaining a stronger eyeglass prescription or wearing anti-glare sunglasses. The only way to eliminate cataracts completely is to have them surgically removed and replaced with artificial lenses. Cataracts do not damage the eyes, which means patients don’t have to have surgery right away if they’re managing their symptoms properly.


Excessive eye pressure can lead to glaucoma, a condition that damages the optic nerves connecting the eyes to the brain. If left untreated, glaucoma may lead to blindness in some patients, and those with diabetes are twice as likely to develop the condition. Without proper treatment, a patient will lose their peripheral vision first, followed by the remainder of their vision. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment will minimize the risk of blindness.

Risk Factors for Diabetic Eye Conditions

Although any person diagnosed with diabetes can develop related eye conditions, there are a few risk factors to consider. These include:

  • The length of time you’ve had diabetes. Those who have had the condition longer are more likely to develop eye diseases.
  • Co-existing conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or elevated blood glucose
  • Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, Hispanics, and African Americans are more likely to experience diabetic eye conditions.
  • If you’re diabetic and pregnant, it’s possible to develop eye problems that progress quickly. Thankfully, women with gestational diabetes usually don’t develop eye conditions.

Your eye doctor and primary care physician can evaluate your risk factors and come up with an appropriate treatment plan.

In Closing

Though every person’s condition is different, one thing is quite clear: diabetes can affect vision in numerous ways. With proper self-care, effective management of diabetes symptoms, and regular eye exams, patients can treat these conditions and keep their vision at its peak.

Diabetes awareness month is November click here for more information. Make sure you have your eyes checked regularly especially if you have been diagnosed with diabetes. Schedule an appointment with one of our independent doctors click here.

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