How Diabetes Affects Your Eyes

If you have diabetes, you probably know by now that uncontrolled blood sugar can wreak havoc on your health. People with diabetes are at risk for a multitude of health problems spanning many different parts of the body, including the eyes. How exactly does diabetes affect your eyes, you ask? In more ways than you may think!

Uncontrolled Diabetes and Your Eyes

It’s not surprising that your overall health tends to dictate your eye health. If your body isn’t functioning the way it should, it makes sense that your eyes will take some of the brunt of that. Uncontrolled diabetes is an example of this. Diabetes can have a profound effect on your eye health.

When your blood sugar is not under control, over time the tiny blood vessels in your retina can begin to swell and leak. This disease is called diabetic retinopathy and can cause vision loss as time goes on. Other eye diseases that are more common in diabetic patients include glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic macular edema. “Diabetic eye disease” typically refers to all of these conditions as a whole.

Let’s dive in a little deeper and talk about all four of these diseases and what diabetic patients can do to avoid them.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a disease that affects the retina. The retina is the light-sensitive patch of tissue that lines the back of the eye. The retina is an essential part of your vision, turning light into brain signals to send through the optic nerve. Any damage to the retina can lead to permanent vision loss.

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the tiny blood vessels in the retina begin to swell and leak fluid and blood. As the disease progresses, new abnormal blood vessels begin to grow on the retina. These new blood vessels are weak and leak fluid easily, compounding the issue. This fluid and blood leaks into the eye cavity, obscuring vision.

Left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness. To avoid diabetic retinopathy, diabetic patients should be diligent about controlling their blood sugar levels. Eating well and staying active will help reduce your risk of developing this disease.

Diabetic Macular Edema

Diabetic macular edema is a disease that affects patients who already have diabetic retinopathy. The macula, a piece of tissue at the center of the retina, is responsible for sharp, central vision. As fluid and blood from swollen blood vessels fill the eye cavity, it is possible for some of the fluid to get underneath the macula. This causes the macula to swell and will negatively impact vision. Left untreated, this condition can cause blindness.


Cataracts are extremely common regardless of diabetes. While it’s likely that patients without diabetes will get cataracts at some point, diabetic patients tend to develop cataracts earlier than non-diabetic patients. Diabetes is a common risk factor for early onset cataracts.

Non-diabetic patients typically develop cataracts sometime after the age of 60. For diabetic patients, cataracts can develop as early as age 40. In addition to developing earlier, cataracts tend to progress faster in diabetic patients.

There is not much you can do to prevent the onset of cataracts, but controlling your diabetes and leading a healthy active life is a start!


Glaucoma is a disease caused by high intraocular pressure (pressure inside of the eye). Glaucoma can cause permanent damage to the optic nerve, leading to irreparable vision loss. Uncontrolled diabetes can contribute to this disease. There is no known prevention method for glaucoma, but keeping blood sugar levels at a normal level should help. Glaucoma does not usually have symptoms, so regular eye examinations are necessary to prevent vision loss.

If you have diabetes, you should be coming into our office each year for a routine eye examination. Diabetes can have a huge impact on the quality of your vision, so be proactive! Our experts here at Eye Surgeons and Physicians of Arizona are here to help keep your eyes healthy. Give us a call to schedule your eye examination today!

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