Diabetes is a disease that prevents your body from properly using sugar from your bloodstream.  It is caused by an inability to make or use insulin.  The result is high levels of sugar in the bloodstream.

How does diabetes affect the eye?

Diabetes and its complications can affect many parts of the eye.  Diabetes can cause changes in nearsightedness, farsightedness, and premature presbyopia (the inability to focus on close objects with age.  It can result in cataracts, glaucoma, strabismus (a lack of eye alignment), and decreased corneal sensitivity.  Visual symptoms of diabetes include fluctuating or blurring of vision, occasional double vision, night vision problems, and flashes and floaters within the eye.  Many times, early signs of diabetes are detected in a comprehensive optometric examination.  The most serious eye problem associated with diabetes is diabetic retinopathy.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when there is a weakening or swelling of the tiny blood vessels in the retina or back of your eye, resulting in blood leakage, the growth of new blood vessels, and other changes.  If diabetic retinopathy is left untreated, blindness can result.  The pictures below show the differences between a normal eye (left) and an eye with diabetic retinopathy (right).

Can vision loss from diabetes be prevented?

Yes, in a routine eye examination, your optometrist can diagnose potential vision threatening changes in your eye that may be able to be treated to prevent blindness.  However, once damage has occurred, the effects are usually permanent.  It is important to control your diabetes as much as possible to minimize your risk of developing retinopathy.

How is diabetic retinopathy treated?

In the early stages, diabetic retinopathy can be treated with laser therapy to seal leaking blood vessels.  In more advanced cases, surgery inside the eye may be necessary.  Early detection of diabetic retinopathy is crucial.

Are there risk factors for developing diabetic retinopathy?

Several factors that increase the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy include: poor control of diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, and pregnancy.

How can diabetes related eye problems be prevented?

Monitor and maintain control of your diabetes.  This can lower your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by as much as 76%.  See your physician regularly and follow instructions about diet, exercise, and medication.  See your optometrist as recommended for a comprehensive eye examination when you are first diagnosed with diabetes.  Have a thorough eye examination at least annually thereafter or more often as recommended by your doctor.