Diabetes & Eye Problems

All throughout  the month of September, the Joslin Blog is highlighting stories about taking care of your eyes, how your eyes are affected by diabetes and Joslin research aimed at detecting and treating diabetic eye disease. This post was originally posted on February 2, 2011.

When you live with diabetes, you’re probably aware of the importance of going for a yearly dilated eye exam. If you don’t already get an annual dilated eye exam, you should.

As Jerry D. Cavallerano, O.D., Ph.D., from the Beetham Eye Institute at the Joslin Diabetes Center, points out, diabetes affects all structures of the eye, which can lead to a greater risk of vision loss and eye problems. Early detection of serious eye complications can enable an ophthalmologist to halt the progression of diabetic eye disease and preserve your vision.

Here are some of the problems you may encounter, ranging from nuisance to the truly serious:

Blurred vision, which can occur in the early stages of diabetes, is caused by fluid seeping into the lens of the eye and causing the lens to swell, changing its shape and altering its ability to focus properly. Once diabetes treatment begins and blood glucose is under control, the lens resumes its normal shape and vision improves.

Generally, it is preferable to wait until blood glucose levels have stabilized prior to prescribing eyeglasses.

Subconjunctival hemorrhage appears as a red, pie-shaped wedge in the white of the eye. It occurs when a tiny blood vessel breaks beneath the clear, outside covering of the eyeball.

This condition is not caused by diabetes – anyone can have it. It is a minor problem and, if left alone, disappears usually within a week. This hemorrhage is not related to hemorrhaging that can occur within the eye and lead to vision loss.

Glaucoma, which is caused by too much pressure in the eye, is another risk. This pressure damages your eye’s main nerve – the optic nerve. In fact, everyone past age 40 is at risk for glaucoma. However, a person with diabetes may be nearly twice as likely to get glaucoma as other adults.

Usually, glaucoma causes no symptoms. In some cases, though, people experience vision loss or see bright haloes or colored rings around light.  Glaucoma may be treated with eye drops, laser, or a combination of laser and eye drops.

Cataract is a condition in which the lens of the eye becomes clouded, blocking the transmission of light. Usually, this problem comes with advancing age, and everyone is at risk.

People with diabetes, however, are more likely to develop cataracts at a younger age. Poor diabetes control can speed up the process of developing cataracts.  Surgery to remove the lens of the eye and replace it with a plastic implant is effective in restoring vision that has been reduced by cataract.

Retinopathy, perhaps the most serious of eye conditions, is a common complication of diabetes and the leading cause of new-onset blindness in American adults. However, effective treatments are available to preserve vision for eyes at risk of vision loss from diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina, which is the thin, light-sensitive inner lining in the back of your eye. Diabetes can affect the lining of those blood vessels, causing them to thicken and develop leaks.

Poor circulation in the retinal vessels can compound these problems by causing the production of fragile new vessels.  Laser treatment, injection of various medications into the vitreous of the eye, and vitrectomy surgery are effective in reducing the risk of vision loss and restoring vision in many cases.

Now that you know the diabetes-related eye diseases for which you may be at risk —it’s all the more important for you to get a yearly, thorough eye exam.

The Beetham Eye Institute, part of the Joslin Diabetes Center, is dedicated to providing total eye-care services to help prevent, diagnose, and treat eye problems related to diabetes.  The Beetham Eye Institute has been world renowned as a leader in diabetes eye care for more than 90 years.


  1. Cataract surgery has been around for many hundreds of years. The first reference to it is in about 5 B.C., if you can believe it.

    Even though we’ve come on in leaps and bounds since then, it’s still surgery, and thus should be avoided if possible. If you have diabetes, take all the precautions you can!

  2. Eye problems and diabetes have very strong connection. Diabetes is one of the major reason around the world for vision loss.
    Due to diabetes retina veins start to weak blood in vessels.

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