Diabetes can affect the body in many ways, and you may have heard that it can cause eye problems and even lead to blindness. People with diabetes do have a higher risk of blindness than people without diabetes, however, there is good news: Most diabetes-related vision loss can be prevented. One of the most common eye problems people with diabetes may encounter is diabetic retinopathy, when the blood vessels in the retina (the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye) swell, leak, or close off completely—or if abnormal new blood vessels grow on the retina. People with diabetes should get regular eye exams, even before they lose vision, so their physician can look for signs and symptoms of retinopathy and treat it quickly. There are treatments that often work well if you begin them right away.
Even if you do not have retinopathy, diabetes can cause vision in your eyes to change. If your blood sugar levels change quickly, it can affect the shape of the lens of your eye and cause blurry vision. Vision may return to normal if blood sugar control improves. There is also a link between diabetes and cataracts. Permanent blurring of vision due to cataracts can result from changes to the lens due to excess blood sugar. Cataract surgery may be necessary to remove lenses that are clouded by the effects of diabetes and replace them with clear lenses to restore clear vision.
There are several steps that you can take to lower your risk of diabetic eye problems: First, control of blood sugar lowers the risk of diabetic retinopathy and diabetic cataracts. Second, high blood pressure control is also important, since high blood pressure can make eye problems worse. Third, avoid tobacco. Fourth, visit your eye doctor (an optometrist or ophthalmologist) regularly. Many recommend that people with diabetes have a thorough eye exam by an eye doctor at least once a year. It’s especially important to visit your eye doctor if you develop:
- blurry vision
- trouble reading
- double vision
- spots or floaters in your eyesight
- eye pain or pressure
- redness in one or both eyes
- or other concerning symptoms
Dr. Jeffrey S. Kerr is a board-certified endocrinologist and member of Cone Health Medical Staff. Dr. Kerr is a 2000 graduate of Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. He completed his residency in Internal Medicine at Cone Health and completed his fellowship in Endocrinology at Southern Illinois School of Medicine.