How Can Diabetes Affect the Eyes?

Author: Premier Eye Associates

Diabetes mellitus is becoming a common health condition in the United States.  Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes has the potential to affect the eyes in many different ways.  If blood sugar levels are strictly regulated, the eyes are less likely to be affected by diabetes.  For this reason, regular communication with a primary care doctor, proper diet control and adequate exercise, and strict compliance with medication is essential for those affected by diabetes.  Continue reading to learn more about how diabetes can affect the eye. 


Diabetic Retinopathy and Bleeding in Eyes

The retina is the neural tissue that lines the back of the eye which is responsible for receiving visual information.  This important retinal tissue can be affected by diabetes in a condition known as diabetic retinopathy. Just as diabetes can affect blood vessels throughout the body, the delicate retinal blood vessels are affected in diabetic retinopathy.  These vessels can begin to leak blood, leaving small hemorrhages in the back of the eye. They can also leak proteins, which may result in swelling and damage to the retinal tissue. Some severe cases of diabetic retinopathy can result in retinal ischemia, in which areas of the retina are not receiving enough blood.  Ischemia is particularly dangerous to the health of the eye; it can trigger the growth of weak new blood vessels which ultimately cause serious problems for the eye like large hemorrhages or retinal detachments.  

Changes from diabetic retinopathy can be occurring silently without any significant visual symptoms.  For this reason, it is important for diabetics to receiving yearly ocular health evaluations. During a retinal health evaluation, a doctor can identify if diabetic changes are occurring in the retina and recommend the best course of treatment. 



Cataracts are when the crystalline lens that is inside the eye becomes cloudy with age.  In general, most people will develop cataracts at some point in their lifetime during old age.  While cataracts are quite common, those with diabetes are at risk for developing cataracts earlier in life, and the cataracts tend progress at a faster rate.  This is because the crystalline lens is sensitive to glucose levels and can expand and swell as levels of sugar fluctuate throughout the body. Cataracts can cause blurry vision and require surgical removal if their effect on vision becomes severe. 


Diabetes and Changes in Vision 

The potential for diabetic retinopathy and the development of cataracts means that those with diabetes are more likely to experience visual fluctuations.  Sometimes the changes in ocular health can result in a significant change in prescription. However, these changes are not always permanent, which means diabetics should be cautious about changing their glasses or their contact lenses if they are noticing unstable and fluctuating visual changes.  The best way to prevent these unpredictable vision changes is to maintain proper blood sugar control and reduce the risk of ocular health changes associated with diabetes.  


High Risk Eyes

Diabetes can put eyes at an increased risk for many other threatening eye conditions.  Those with diabetes are more likely to develop glaucoma, which is a potentially blinding condition.  They also have a higher risk of experiencing an occlusion of the retinal veins or retinal arteries, which can have devastating and permanent visual effects.  The front surface of the eye can even be affected by diabetes; diabetics typically experience a significantly longer healing time after an injury to the front of the eye. 

The increased risks to eye health mean that regular eye examinations are extremely important for those with diabetes.  If you have diabetes, don’t put off your annual eye exam. 


Dr. Anthony Spina and the staff of Premier Eye Associates specialize in the diagnosis and management of diabetes and diabetic retinopathy.  Call our eye doctor in Auburn, AL today at (334) 539-5391 or schedule an appointment online  for an eye turn and lazy eye evalutation. Our eye exams and optometrist provide the highest quality eye  services  amongst eye doctors in the Auburn Alabama area.

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