Mya Care Blogger 22 Feb 2024

A chronic illness that affects millions of individuals globally is diabetes. It is a condition that impairs the body's capacity to make or utilize insulin. One hormone that controls blood sugar levels is insulin. Many people with diabetes do not know that it can harm their eyes despite being aware of its overall health effects.

In this article, we will explore the various ways diabetes can affect your eyes and what you can do to protect your vision.

How Does Diabetes Affect the Eyes?

Diabetes damages blood vessels in the eyes, leading to several eye problems, including diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma.

This happens when extra sugar molecules in the blood stick to proteins on the surface of cells lining the blood vessel wall. This is known as glycation and creates substances called glycation end products or AGEs.[1]

AGEs harden off, cause lesions and scar tissue, block nutrient uptake and prevent cells from functioning properly. This creates inflammation and stress that harm the vessel walls. Glycation is an important process in the development of eye problems in diabetes.

Types of Diabetic Retinopathy

The most prevalent eye issue connected to diabetes is diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels in the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue located in the back of the eye. This can lead to leakage of blood and fluid into the retina, causing vision problems and potential vision loss.

Diabetic retinopathy is of two types: non-proliferative and proliferative.

Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy is the initial phase of the condition, where retinal blood vessels become damaged and leaky. This can cause swelling in the retina and lead to blurry vision.

Proliferative retinopathy is the more advanced stage of the disease. The surface of the retina begins to sprout new, aberrant blood vessels at this stage. Because of their fragility, these blood vessels have the potential to leak blood into the eye, impairing vision.

Other Eye Problems Associated with Diabetes

Diabetes can raise the risk of many eye conditions in addition to diabetic retinopathy, including[2]:

  • Cataracts: A clouding of the eye lens, which may result in hazy vision and trouble seeing at night. Diabetes can cause cataracts by damaging the blood vessels in the lens of the eye.
  • Glaucoma: A group of eye diseases that can cause vision loss by harming the optic nerve. A rise in eye pressure can be caused by diabetes, which affects the tiny blood vessels that control the outflow of fluid from the eye. This doubles glaucoma risk.
  • Retinal detachment: When visual loss results from the retina's separation from the back of the eye.. This is a frequent complication of diabetic retinopathy.
  • Diabetic macular edema: A buildup of fluid in the macula. The macula is the center part of the retina that helps with sharp, central vision. This happens in diabetic retinopathy when fluid leaks from the blood vessels in the retina into the macula.

Diabetic Retinopathy Symptoms

In the early stages, diabetic eye symptoms may not be present or noticeable. However, as diabetic retinopathy progresses, you might experience[3]:

  • Blurry vision
  • Diabetes eye pain and headache
  • Flashes of light
  • Dark spots or floaters in your vision
  • Difficulty seeing at night
  • Changes in color perception

If you have any of these symptoms, you need to see an eye doctor for a thorough eye exam.

Risk Factors

Diabetic retinopathy can affect anyone with diabetes, including those who acquire gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Risk elements that may raise your odds include:

  • High blood sugar levels
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Pregnancy (gestational diabetes)
  • Duration of diabetes (the longer you have diabetes, the higher your risk)
  • Aging

How Are Diabetic Eye Problems Diagnosed?

Diabetic eye problems are diagnosed through a comprehensive eye exam. During the exam, your eye doctor will:

  • Dilate your pupils to get a better view of the back of your eye
  • Look for indications of glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy
  • Measure your eye pressure
  • Test your vision

Your doctor might perform additional tests to get a clearer view of your eye. These tests include fluorescein angiography and optical coherence tomography[4] (OCT) scan. In order to measure your average blood sugar levels over the previous two to three months and look for undiagnosed diabetes, the doctor may also request the A1c test.

Treatment Options for Diabetic Eye Problems

Early treatment of diabetic retinopathy can cut the risk of blindness by as much as 95%. The treatment for diabetic eye problems depends on the type and severity of the condition.

Some common treatment options include[5]:

  • Eye drops: These can help reduce swelling and inflammation in the eye.
  • Injections: Injectable medications can be used to halt the formation of aberrant blood vessels and reduce eye edema.
  • Laser therapy: This treatment can assist in sealing blood vessels that are leaking and stop more retinal damage.
  • Eye surgery: Surgery might be required in some circumstances to remove a cataract or repair a damaged retina.

How Can You Protect Your Vision from Diabetic Eye Problems?

The best way to protect your vision from diabetic eye problems is to manage your diabetes effectively. In addition to taking any medications as prescribed, this includes:

Get Regular Eye Exams

Routine eye exams are essential to identify and treat diabetic eye issues early on.

The American Diabetes Association suggests that individuals with type 1 diabetes should get an eye check-up within five years of being diagnosed and then every year thereafter.

For people with type 2 diabetes, an eye exam should be done at the time of diagnosis and then every year after that.

Control Your Blood Sugar Levels

Elevated blood glucose levels can harm the blood vessels in your eyes, leading to diabetic retinopathy. You can lower your chance of having eye issues by managing your blood sugar levels.

Frequent A1c testing can help you to monitor your blood glucose levels and assess if you are successful.[6]

Manage Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

High blood pressure and cholesterol can also increase your risk of developing eye problems. Be sure to monitor these levels and take steps to keep them under control.

Follow a Healthy Diet

A healthy diet plan consists of a variety of plant-based foods high in fiber and nutrients. Choosing healthy low to medium-GI foods can greatly help in controlling blood sugar[7], cholesterol, and blood pressure.

Exercise Regularly

Exercising regularly can safeguard your eyes from diabetic retinopathy. It does this by boosting blood flow, lessening inflammation, and managing diabetes symptoms through controlling blood sugar levels.

Quit Smoking

Smoking can increase your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy and other eye problems. If you smoke, discuss quitting with your physician.

Protect Your Eyes From the Sun

Your risk of cataract development may increase if you are exposed to UV rays. Wear sunglasses with UV protection when you are outdoors to protect your eyes.


Diabetes can have a significant impact on the health of your eyes. By managing your diabetes effectively and getting regular eye exams, you can protect your vision and prevent serious eye problems. If you have diabetes, be sure to talk to your doctor about how you can manage your condition and protect your eyes.

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