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  • Writer's pictureAtanas Bogoev M.D. and Maria Cholakova

Eye Risks When You Have Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic condition with an impact that extends beyond regulating blood sugar levels. One major concern for people with the condition is the higher risk of eye complications. Poor management of diabetic eye diseases may cause severe vision loss or even blindness. Understanding the eye risks when you have diabetes and adopting proactive measures can change your life for the better.

Diabetic Eye Diseases

1. Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a progressive condition with two main stages—non-proliferative and proliferative.

In the non-proliferative stage, small blood vessels in the retina leak fluid or blood. That leads to swelling or formation of deposits.

As the disease progresses to the proliferative stage, new blood vessels grow on the retina. These blood vessels are fragile and may cause bleeding and scarring, including retinal detachment.

Diabetic retinopathy symptoms:

  • Blurry Vision

  • Floaters

  • Color Vision Changes

At first, mild vision problems may occur. But as the condition progresses - blurred vision becomes more noticeable. Next, diabetic individuals start seeing dark spots and floaters in their field of vision. Difficulty distinguishing colors or seeing colors differently than usual is also a common sign of diabetic retinopathy.

Risk factors:

  • Poorly controlled blood sugar levels

  • Long duration of diabetes

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol

  • Pregnancy

Routine eye exams are key to detect and monitor any signs of retinopathy. Strict blood sugar control through medications, diet, and exercise is also a preventative measure to take. And of course, to lower the eye risks when you have diabetes, you should manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

If you already have diabetic retinopathy, early intervention through laser surgery is a feasible treatment option.

2. Diabetic Macular Edema (DME)

DME is a complication of diabetic retinopathy.

It's where fluid accumulates in the macula, the central part of the retina. The macula is responsible for central vision and sharp focus. When fluid leaks into the macula, it swells, causing visual distortion and blurriness. If left untreated, diabetic macular edema can result in permanent vision loss.

Diabetic macular edema symptoms:

  • Blurred or distorted central vision

  • Difficulty reading or recognizing faces

As a start, objects may appear distorted or wavy. The blurriness is hard to ignore. Along with it, central vision impairment affects activities requiring sharp focus. So recognizing faces, reading, or doing everyday tasks may become challenging.

Risk factors:

  • Presence of diabetic retinopathy

  • Poorly controlled diabetes

  • Duration of diabetes

Regular eye examinations are the most reliable way to monitor macular health. Optimal blood sugar control is also a key preventative measure to take into consideration.

Timely intervention through intravitreal injections, laser therapy, or surgery may be necessary to manage the condition and preserve vision.

3. Cataracts

People with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing cataracts.

Cataracts are a clouding of the eye's natural lens. The condition tends to develop as a part of the aging process. But that's not always the case if you have diabetes. Individuals with diabetes may develop cataracts at a younger age.

Cataracts symptoms:

  • Cloudy or blurry vision

  • Glare sensitivity

  • Frequent changes in prescription glasses

If you have cataracts, you will notice how your vision becomes progressively hazy. Next comes glare sensitivity, and difficulty seeing in low light. Changes in refraction (diopters) may also happen due to cataract development.

Risk factors:

  • Poorly controlled diabetes

  • Aging

  • Smoking

  • Prolonged exposure to sunlight

Blood sugar control and regular eye check-ups are mandatory for managing cataract progression. Smoking and UV exposure also have a detrimental role to play. The best thing to do is quit smoking and wear sunglasses for eye protection.

Cataracts can significantly impact vision and affect daily activities. The condition may require surgery to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial one.

4. Other Eye Risks and Conditions

Beyond the well-known diabetic eye diseases, diabetes can also contribute to other eye risks:

  • Changes in refraction (diopter prescription)

  • Dry eye syndrome

  • Eye infections

These conditions impact eye comfort and visual acuity and make life a bit more difficult. With so many risks for eye health, people with diabetes should have routine diabetic eye exams.


Awareness has a big impact on preventing diabetes-related eye problems. Empowering individuals with knowledge of eye complications fosters a proactive approach to eye care. We hope this article was helpful to you. Keep reading about eye health in our ophthalmology blog.

Checked by Atanas Bogoev, MD.

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