Diabetes is a serious concern for doctors here in the United States. According to the American Diabetes Association’s 2014 report, 29.1 million Americans had diabetes in 2012. That’s 9.3% of the population. Unfortunately, diabetes is not just a long-term condition that affects a patient's blood sugar levels. 

Over time, diabetes can also affect other areas of a diabetic patient's health - including their eyes and vision. Because of this, it’s important for diabetic patients to understand how their condition could affect their visual health - and to work with both their primary care and their eye doctors to keep their eyes as healthy as possible.

Symptoms of Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetes can cause a number of eye problems, some of which can lead to blindness if not addressed. Here are some symptoms related to vision that may indicate diabetes-related eye diseases:

  • Blurred Vision: This could result from the lens in your eye swelling due to high blood sugar levels.
  • Floaters: These are tiny spots or lines that float across your field of vision. They're tiny clumps of cells or material in the vitreous, the clear gel-like substance that fills your eye. They're more common if you have diabetic retinopathy.
  • Double Vision: Diabetes can affect the muscles that control eye movement, leading to double vision.
  • Pain or Pressure in One or Both Eyes: This could be a sign of glaucoma, a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve, often due to high pressure in the eye.
  • Trouble Seeing Objects on the Side (Peripheral Vision): This is a symptom of advanced glaucoma.
  • Vision Loss: Sudden or gradual vision loss could indicate several diabetes-related eye diseases, including diabetic retinopathy, macular edema, or glaucoma.
  • Difficulty with Night Vision: Poor night vision can indicate cataracts or retinopathy.
  • Seeing Halos Around Lights: This can be a sign of developing cataracts caused by diabetes.

Remember, these symptoms could be due to other eye conditions as well. If you notice any changes to your vision, it's important to see an eye doctor right away

How Diabetes Can Affect Vision

Many people don’t realize that diabetic eye disease is a possible complication of living with diabetes, particularly poorly treated or ignored diabetes. Untreated or poorly monitored cases of diabetes can lead to high blood sugar levels in a patient and directly increase one’s risk of developing eye problems. Specific kinds of eye diseases and problems that may develop in patients dealing with diabetes include:

  • Diabetic Retinopathy: Anyone who has diabetes can develop diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease and a leading cause of blindness in American adults. It is caused by changes in, and damage to, the retina's blood vessels. In others, abnormal new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina. Patients dealing with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are both at risk of developing this issue.
  • Diabetic Macular edema:  One complication of diabetic retinopathy is diabetic macular edema.  This is due to leakage from very small blood vessels, leading to the accumulation of fluid in the central retina, also referred to as the macula.  This is the most common cause of vision loss in patients with diabetes. 
  • Cataracts: While cataracts are a common eye problem in general, people with diabetes are 60% more likely to develop cataracts than non-diabetic individuals.
  • Glaucoma: It’s estimated that people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop glaucoma as non-diabetics. Diabetic patients should regularly visit their eye doctor to monitor for signs of glaucoma and to receive treatment should it start to develop.

Each of these diabetic eye diseases can cause vision problems or even complete vision loss if they are left untreated. Because of this, diabetic patients need to take steps to prevent and monitor these issues.

Preventing Diabetic Eye Diseases

Diabetes can greatly impact vision health, potentially leading to conditions like diabetic retinopathy. However, there are several preventative measures that individuals with diabetes can take to protect their vision.

  • Control Blood Sugar Levels: Patients with diabetes should always strive to control their blood sugar levels. Research has shown that people who maintain their blood sugar levels close to normal develop retinopathy four times less often than those on standard diabetes treatments. Careful control of blood sugar levels can even slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy.
  • Maintain Healthy Blood Pressure: Diabetic patients should aim to keep their blood pressure at a healthy level. High blood pressure can cause damage to the vessels in and behind the eye, leading to vision problems.
  • Avoid Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of developing numerous eye problems. Combined with diabetes, smoking can significantly increase the risk of developing a vision problem or eye disease.
  • Avoid Harmful Rays: Exposure to harmful UV rays can damage the eyes and exacerbate vision problems. Wearing sunglasses that block 100% of UVA and UVB rays can help protect the eyes.
  • Regular Exercise: Physical activities like walking, swimming, or cycling can help maintain a healthy weight and lower blood sugar levels, which can prevent diabetes complications, including eye diseases.
  • Annual Eye Exams: Early detection of eye diseases can prevent vision loss. Therefore, it's critical to have a comprehensive vision exam, including a dilated retinal exam, once a year or as recommended by your eye doctor

Diagnosis and Treatment of Diabetic Eye Diseases


Diabetic eye diseases are typically diagnosed through comprehensive eye exams conducted by eye care professionals. These exams may include the following:

  • Visual Acuity Test: This test measures the clarity of vision using an eye chart.
  • Dilated Eye Exam: During this exam, eye drops are administered to dilate the pupils, allowing the doctor to examine the retina and optic nerve more thoroughly. This helps detect signs of diabetic retinopathy, macular edema, and other related conditions.
  • Tonometry: This test measures the pressure inside the eyes and aids in diagnosing glaucoma.
  • Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT): This non-invasive imaging test provides detailed retina cross-sectional images, helping identify abnormalities or fluid accumulation.


The most appropriate treatment for diabetic eye disease depends on the specific condition and its severity. The following treatment options may be recommended by eye care professionals:

  • Medication: In cases of diabetic retinopathy and macular edema, medications such as anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) injections or corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce swelling, control blood vessel growth, and improve visual acuity.
  • Laser Therapy: Laser treatment, such as focal laser photocoagulation or scatter laser treatment, may be used to seal leaking blood vessels, shrink abnormal blood vessels, or reduce swelling in the retina.
  • Vitrectomy: For advanced cases of diabetic retinopathy where blood or scar tissue obscures vision, a surgical procedure called vitrectomy may be necessary. This involves removing the vitreous gel and replacing it with a clear solution to restore vision.
  • Cataract Surgery: If cataracts develop due to diabetic eye disease, surgical removal of the cloudy lens and replacement with an artificial lens can help improve vision.

Living with Diabetic Eye Diseases

Living with diabetic eye disease can be challenging, but with the right approach and support, individuals can lead fulfilling lives. Here are some important factors to consider:

  • Medication Adherence: Follow prescribed medications and treatment plans, including using regular eye drops and attending appointments.
  • Healthy Lifestyle: Maintain blood sugar levels through a balanced diet, exercise, stress management, and good sleep habits.
  • Use of Adaptive Tools: To manage visual impairments, use aids like magnifiers, screen reading software, voice assistants, large-print materials, and tactile markers.
  • Emotional Support: Seek help from loved ones, support groups, or counseling to cope with emotional challenges.
  • Regular Check-ups: Regular eye exams and follow-up appointments are crucial for early detection and intervention.

Eye Care Guidelines For Diabetic Patients

While caring for themselves will minimize their risk of developing complications, patients who are dealing with diabetes should always see their eye care professional at least once a year for a dilated eye exam. This is because eye doctors can examine a patient’s eyes much more thoroughly than a regular doctor - and unlike a primary care doctor, optometrists and ophthalmologists can detect the earliest signs of eye problems.

Diabetic patients should also call their eye doctor immediately if they develop sudden vision problems such as (but not limited to):

  • Difficulty seeing well in dim light
  • Presence of blind spots
  • Double vision (seeing two things when there is only one)
  • Hazy or blurry vision that makes focusing difficult
  • Pain in one or both eyes
  • Frequent headaches
  • Seeing spots or floaters in your vision
  • Difficulty seeing things on the side of your field of vision (loss of peripheral vision)
  • Seeing shadows

With many people today now living with diabetes, diabetic and non-diabetic patients alike must understand how this condition can affect someone’s vision. By learning about the vision problems associated with diabetes, current patients can better care for their eyes. In contrast, non-diabetic patients can assist diabetic family members and reduce their own risk of developing the condition.

Choose Everett & Hurite Eyecare Specialists for Expert Eye Care

Don't let diabetic eye diseases compromise your quality of life. Schedule your appointment with us today. Whether for a regular check-up, addressing specific concerns, or seeking comprehensive treatment, Everett & Hurite Eyecare Specialists are your partners in maintaining clear and healthy vision.

Visit our website for more information, or give us a call to discuss how we can assist you in your eye care journey. Your vision is precious, and we're dedicated to safeguarding it at Everett & Hurite Eyecare Specialists. Trust us to be your ally in managing your diabetic eye health effectively.

Your Vision, Our Mission. Contact Everett & Hurite Eyecare Specialists Today.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does pregnancy affect diabetic eye disease?

Pregnancy can worsen diabetic retinopathy, so women with pre-existing diabetes should have a comprehensive eye exam before pregnancy and during pregnancy as recommended by their eye care professional.

How often should someone with diabetes have an eye examination?

Individuals with diabetes should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. More frequent exams may be necessary if there are signs of diabetic eye disease or if the individual has other risk factors like high blood pressure.

Are children with diabetic parents at higher risk of diabetic eye disease?

Children of diabetic parents have a higher risk of developing diabetes themselves, which in turn can increase their risk of diabetic eye disease. Genetic factors do play a role in the susceptibility to diabetes and its complications.

Can diabetic eye disease be cured?

Diabetic eye disease cannot be cured, but early detection and timely treatment can help manage the condition and prevent further vision loss. The goal of treatment is to slow down the progression of the disease, preserve vision, and maintain eye health.