Diabetes and Eye Health: 8 Essential FAQs for Optimal Vision

Diabetes can have a devastating effect on your entire body, including your eyes. Here are our top 8 frequently asked questions about how diabetes can affect your eyes.

Q1: What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that causes your body to be unable to produce or properly process the hormone insulin, which is responsible for regulating the amount of sugar (glucose) in your blood.

High blood sugar levels can damage organs and blood vessels throughout the body. Diabetes leads to increased risks of stroke, heart attack, and damage to the kidneys, eyes, gums, and nerves.

There are two types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes: Usually affects children, teens, and young adults. It is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s pancreas is unable to produce insulin. Type 1 diabetics must take insulin every day to survive.

  • Type 2 diabetes: While these individuals can produce insulin, their bodies are not able to properly process it. This can cause dangerous spikes and drops in blood sugar levels, leading to feelings of weakness, nausea, and dizziness. Type 2 diabetes is mostly diagnosed in adulthood.

Q2: Is there a way to prevent diabetes?

This depends on the type of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes is a rare form, affecting only 5%-10% of diabetics. Symptoms develop fairly early in life due to genetic causes, and there is no known method of prevention.

  • Type 2 diabetes is the most common form, affecting between 90% and 95% of diabetics. It develops over many years and can be prevented or slowed with the right medications, diet, weight maintenance, and exercise

Q3: Can diabetes cause vision loss?

Yes. Diabetics are at high risk of developing a range of sight-threatening eye conditions and even blindness.

Diabetic retinopathy is the most frequent condition that many diabetics develop. It occurs due to damage to the tiny, fragile blood vessels in the back of the eyes. Nearly all type 1 diabetics and around 60% of type 2 diabetics develop diabetic retinopathy within 20 years of their diabetes diagnosis. This condition can lead to permanent vision loss without proper care.

Diabetics are also significantly more likely to develop sight-threatening conditions such as macular edema, cataracts, and glaucoma.


Q4: What does a diabetic eye exam include?

Annual eye exams are important for everyone. However, due to the dangers posed by diabetes to sight, it is especially important for diabetics to have regularly scheduled eye exams, sometimes more than once a year. During a diabetic eye exam, your eye doctor will perform several tests to detect signs of diabetic retinopathy and related conditions.

Here are the tests included in a diabetic eye exam:

  1. Dilated pupil exam: Drops are used to dilate your eyes for a wider view of the retina. A slit lamp helps detect damage caused by diabetes-linked eye conditions.

  2. Digital retinal exam: Non-invasive imaging technology produces a hi-resolution color image of the back of your eye, including the optic nerve, blood vessels, and retina. These images help track changes over time.

  3. Optical coherence tomography (OCT): A non-radioactive laser scan provides a 3D color-coded, cross-sectional image of the retina and optic nerve, allowing your doctor to detect abnormalities.

  4. Fluorescein angiography: This involves injecting a bright yellow dye into a blood vein to reveal changes in retinal blood vessels, indicating diabetic retinopathy.

For more details, see related: Diagnosed With Diabetes? Seeing Your Eye Doctor Is Essential

If you have diabetes, ensure your eye doctor is part of your medical team and schedule frequent eye exams. Find an eye doctor near you.

Q5: Can diabetes cause blurry vision?

Yes. High blood sugar can cause the focusing lens in the eye to bulge, resulting in blurry vision. The lens returns to its original shape once blood sugar is normalized. This temporary blurry vision resolves when blood sugar levels return to normal. However, prolonged high blood sugar can cause lasting blurry vision, taking up to three months for vision to stabilize.

Q6: What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition where prolonged high blood sugar damages the blood vessels in the retinal layer, causing them to leak. It affects over 8 million Americans, mostly aged 40 and older. The retina, a nerve layer at the back of the eye, sends light signals to the brain. Any damage to the retina results in vision loss as nerve cells die from insufficient oxygen.

In advanced stages, new blood vessels form to compensate for blood loss, but these vessels are fragile and leak, causing swelling and scarring of the retina. Left untreated, this condition can lead to total blindness.

Q7: Can diabetes cause glaucoma?

Yes. Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions characterized by damage to the optic nerve caused by elevated inner eye pressure. This increased pressure results from poor fluid outflow from the eye. Untreated glaucoma can cause ‘Tunnel Vision’ and total blindness.

Diabetes can cause a rare form of glaucoma called neovascular glaucoma. This condition occurs when extra blood vessels grow into the iris, blocking fluid outflow and raising inner eye pressure. Glaucoma often has no symptoms until significant damage occurs.

Q8: Does diabetes increase the risk of cataracts?

Yes. Cataracts are a common part of aging, where protein builds up in the eye, causing clouding of the lens. This results in blurry vision and, if untreated, total vision loss in the affected eye. Diabetics are two to five times more likely to develop cataracts than non-diabetics, with the risk up to 25 times higher in those under 40 years old.

If you have diabetes, schedule an appointment with your eye doctor to ensure the best chance of maintaining good eye health and clear vision.

We hope these 8 frequently asked questions about diabetes and your eyes have helped. If you have diabetes, your eye doctor is an essential part of your medical team. Regular eye exams and proactive care can make all the difference in preserving your vision.