Diabetes Related Eye Problems


Having type 1 or type 2 diabetes may put you at risk for common diabetes-related eye problems, including cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic macular edema (DME), and diabetic retinopathy (damage to blood vessels that lead to the retina), which may lead to retinal detachment.

What Causes Diabetic Retinopathy?

In most cases, diabetes affects the eyes because high blood sugar and hypertension (high blood pressure) can damage the tiny blood vessels in your retina, causing them to swell, leak or even close. This may lead to a number of complications, from blood getting into the vitreous (or gel-like area) of the eye, to the retina becoming detached.

Progression of Diabetic Retinopathy

Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) - beginning stage where blood vessels in the retina can swell and leak which may cause swelling in the retina and macula (the area near the center of the retina).

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PRD) - advanced stage where fragile, new blood vessels grow and leak into vitreous (or gel-like area). The leaking can cause floaters or even vision loss. If scar tissue forms due to the new blood vessels, it may lead to retinal detachment.

Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

Vision with diabetic retinopathy

At first, you may not experience any symptoms – the type of damage that is most commonly associated with diabetes happens gradually, and may not necessarily be noticed. If you have diabetes you should have your eyes examined regularly to help identify any eye health issues early.

You may experience symptoms that vary depending on the eye issue you have, including:

  • Eye floaters
  • Blurred vision
  • Dark spot in center of vision
  • Difficulty seeing at night

Treatment for Diabetes-Related Eye Problems

Preventive measures are the best ways to avoid eye problems associated with diabetes. Here are a few steps to follow:

  • Have regular eye exams: visiting your eye care professional for regular check ups is the first step in supporting the health of your eyes
  • Keep your blood glucose and blood pressure as normal as possible: high blood sugar and high blood pressure are high risk factors for damage to the tiny blood vessels in the eye, which is the starting point for more serious complications. Make sure your blood glucose and blood pressure are where they need to be. 

Treatment depends on the progression of the disease. Advance stage treatments may include:

Medication - injected into eye to decrease inflammation
Laser surgery - to stop blood vessels from leaking
Other surgical procedures - in advanced situations; surgery may be needed to replace the vitreous (or gel-like area) of the eye or to repair a detached retina

If you have diabetes you should have your eyes examined regularly to help identify any eye health issues early.


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