How Does Diabetes Affect Your Eyes? | Houston Eye Associates

How Does Diabetes Affect Your Eyes?

Diabetes and your eyes

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition that affects the way your body produces or uses insulin to control your blood sugar (glucose) levels. The pancreas, an organ near the stomach, produces insulin which helps glucose get into the cells of the body. When you have diabetes, your body either does not produce enough insulin or cannot use the insulin that it is producing as well as it should. This causes glucose to build up in the blood, and too much glucose in the blood causes damage in many parts of the body.

How Can Diabetes Affect My Eyes?

Diabetes can lead to a serious eye disease called diabetic retinopathy, but it can also cause other vision problems.

Having diabetes affects your blood sugar levels. When your blood sugar levels change quickly, it can affect the shape of your eye’s lens. This can cause blurry vision that only stabilizes once your blood sugar levels are stabilized. For this reason (and many others), if you have diabetes, it is recommended that you make sure your blood sugar levels are controlled.

Quick Tip: Be sure to always get an annual eye exam. Eye exams give your doctor an opportunity to find and address issues before they start to affect your vision.

What is a Diabetic Eye Disease?

Diabetic eye disease refers to the many eye problems that can be caused by diabetes. Having diabetes puts you at risk for the following diabetic eye diseases:

  • Retinopathy
  • Macular Edema
  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is when the blood vessels of the eye’s retina swell, leak or close completely. As a result, this could cause blindness. Abnormal new blood vessels can also grow on the retina’s surface and then bleed into the eyeball. As a result, this can cause permanent blindness. The retina is a thin layer of light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye. It changes light into energy signals so that they can be carried to the brain. So, if your eye was a camera, the retina would be the film.

People with diabetes or poor blood sugar control are at risk for diabetic retinopathy. Furthermore, the longer someone has diabetes and the poorer it is controlled, the greater their risk for diabetic retinopathy.

There are many treatment options for diabetic retinopathy. Some include blood sugar control, eye drops, lasers, shots of medicine and surgery. However, it is recommended to consult your eye doctor about the treatment option that’s best for you.

Diabetic Macular Edema

Macular Edema is when fluid builds up in the retina. This causes swelling and can distort vision and even cause vision loss. Diabetic macular edema (DME) occurs when fluid leaks into the center of the macula, causing it to swell. DME can occur at any stage of diabetic retinopathy but most commonly occurs as the disease progresses.

Treatment for diabetic macular edema could be using a focal laser to close leaking blood vessels, anti- VEGF medication, a steroid injection or even eye drops. It is recommended to consult your eye doctor about the treatment option that’s best for you.

Diabetes, Cataracts and Glaucoma

A cataract is the clouding of the lens of the eye. Excess blood sugar from diabetes can cause a cataract that could require surgery to remove. Gaining control over your blood sugar is the best way for patients with diabetes to avoid cataracts.

Glaucoma damages your eye’s optic nerve when fluid builds up in the front part of your eye. The extra fluid increases the pressure in your eye. This is what damages your optic nerve. Patients with diabetes can get new blood vessels that grow and clog up the drain in the eye. This causes severe pressure, pain, and sometimes vomiting. Eye drops, oral medication, injections of medication, and surgery are all treatment options for the type of glaucoma that is associated with diabetes. It is recommended to consult your eye doctor about the treatment option that’s best for you.

How Can I Protect My Vision?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 90% of diabetes-related vision loss is preventable. If you have diabetes, then you are at risk of developing a diabetic eye disease.

Follow these top 5 tips for how you can protect your eyesight from diabetic eye disease:

  1. Get regular eye exams with dilation. Getting your eyes dilated will allow for your eye doctor to get a more detailed look at your eyes, and often times your doctor can find diabetic issues in the eye before it affects your vision. The dilation lasts for about 3 to 6 hours. So, you may experience blurry vision, light sensitivity or trouble focusing on close objects during this time.
  2. Control your blood sugar. If your blood sugar is too high, it can affect the shape the lens of your eye and cause blurry vision. It can also cause diabetic retinopathy.
  3. Maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Having high blood pressure and high cholesterol can increase your risk of eye disease and vision loss. Maintaining healthy levels of both will benefit your eyes as well as your overall health.
  4. Quit smoking. When you smoke, your risk for developing diabetes-related eye diseases significantly increases.
  5. Exercise regularly. Regular exercise is good for controlling diabetes, and also helps you preserve your vision and keep your eye healthy. Consult with your primary care physician before starting any new exercise program.

If you have diabetes, be sure to always consult your doctor if you experience any sudden changes in your vision. Protect your vision today and stop by one of Houston Eye Associates’ 28 locations to come see one of our diabetic eye disease specialists. To make your appointment, give us a call at 713-668-6828.


**The content in this blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions or your health.

Writer: Tayler Harris

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