How Diabetes Affects Eye Health And What You Can Do About It

Instances of diabetes are rising rapidly in North America. By 2013, 1.9 million Canadians had diabetes, and those rates are just going up. Most people are aware how diabetes affects weight gain and increases the risk for heart disease, but did you also know that diabetes significantly increases your chances of vision loss and developing diseases in the eye? 

Diabetic Retinopathy

This is the most common eye problem that diabetic persons face. An increased level of sugar in the blood causes inflammation to blood vessels, even the blood vessels in the eye. Because the eye is such a delicate organ, changes in the size and number of blood vessels can lead to weakness in the vessel walls. Eventually, the tiny capillaries can rupture and leak fluid into the eye, which blurs the vision and has the potential to damage the optic nerve.

Also, changes in the blood vessels, including leaks, can prevent blood supply from reach vital parts of the eye. For example, the retina may not get the fresh oxygen it needs, which can lead to dying tissue and scarring. 

 You should also watch for symptoms that indicate the condition, especially eye pain and blurred vision or partial vision. Sometimes, leaking blood vessel, or a blood vessel that has grown too large, will obstruct your view. You should see an optometrist immediately if this happens. However, because diabetic retinopathy is prevalent among diabetics (around 60% of people with type 2 diabetes develop this problem), it is caught earlier if you are vigilant about completing a yearly eye exam; you will notice any symptoms when the problem first begins. 


Glaucoma occurs when there is increased pressure within the eye. Glaucoma can lead to vision loss if it is not remedied. People with diabetes are at greater risk for developing glaucoma because they often have increased blood pressure and difficulty regulating blood sugar. The eye may try to compensate by developing new blood vessels in the iris and around the optic nerve. this condition is known as neovascular glaucoma. The overall increased pressure due to more blood vessels and hypertension leads to damage of the nerves in the eye, reducing vision quality and eye reflexes. 

One of the best way to prevent glaucoma as a diabetic is to by vigilant about controlling blood sugar. For type 1 diabetes, and insulin pump is the most effective. For those with type 2, weight loss and control over the diet will be the most effective in lowering pressure in the eye. Your optometrist may recommend draining some fluid from the eye, or may even suggest surgery in order to remove some of the offending blood vessels. 


Anybody can begin to develop cataracts as they age. However, diabetes can sometimes speed up the process. Sometimes, in the presence of high blood sugar, more sugar is deposited in the lens of the eye. To help balance things out, the body draws more water into the lens. The increased pressure causes the fiber-like cells and tissues in the lens to distort and change shape. When blood sugar levels plummet, the water and sugar leave, returning the lens to normal.

Because diabetics have more intense spikes in blood sugar levels, the fibers of the lens are distorted more often. The "overwork" causes the early cloudy discoloration that normally happens as people age. 

If you are a diabetic, there is no reason why should not enjoy healthy vision during your lifetime. However, you will need to consult with your optometrists regularly and continue to have yearly eye exams in order to catch these issues early so that your vision can be preserved.