How Diabetes Affects Your Eyes

According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes is the leading cause of vision loss in people 18-64. Eye care is essential to diabetes care, just like foot care, and requires an annual check up with an ophthalmologist to identify and prevent complications. Here’s what you should know about diabetes and your eyes.

Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy develops when high blood sugars damage the teeny-tiny vessels supplying blood to your retina. The retina is the lining at the very back of each eye that senses light so that you can see.

In the initial stages, a small bump develops in your eye’s blood vessel. At this stage, you may not have any symptoms. But as the blood vessels leak, your vision may become blurry or impaired, and you may see spots floating in front of your eyes. As the condition worsens and the blood flowing to your eyes starts to slow down, your retina can grow new blood vessels to attempt to correct your vision. However, these vessels are fragile and if they burst and bleed, it could lead to total loss of vision.

Mild cases may be treated with careful diabetes management, while advanced cases may require surgery or laser treatment.


Glaucoma is a buildup of pressure within the eyeball. Because of the blood vessel damage due to high blood sugars, new vessels start growing on the iris (the colored curtain near the front of the eye). This blocks the drainage of fluid from the eye, raising the eye pressure. Glaucoma can cause severe eye pain, blurry vision, bright circles around the lights, nausea, and vomiting.

This condition can develop without diabetes. However, chronically high blood sugar levels double your risk of having glaucoma. If not caught and treated early, the increased eye pressure can squeeze and damage the nerve that transmits vision signals to your brain, leading to permanent vision loss.


A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens that blurs vision. The lens of your eyes helps to focus light and images on your retina. When sugar in your blood is persistently high, the sugar levels in your eye’s fluid also rise. This sugar flows into your lens, causing it to swell and become cloudy, which affects the clarity of your vision. 

While cataracts can be age-related in people without diabetes, it can have an earlier onset in those with diabetes. 

Diabetic Macular Edema

The macula is a yellow spot in the center of your retina, which helps you with central vision—the vision used while looking at someone, reading, or driving. Over time, diabetes can cause the macula to swell, known as macular edema. The condition can distort the vision, stealing your vision partly or even altogether. 

When’s the last time you had an eye exam? If it’s been more than a year, call your ophthalmologist to get an appointment scheduled – an annual exam could prevent up to 95% of vision loss caused by diabetes.

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