Diabetes and Your Eyes

Diabetic retinopathy, stemming from diabetes, threatens vision by damaging the retina’s blood vessels.

The condition affects up to 80% of all patients who have had diabetes for 10 years or more. Despite these statistics, research indicates that at least 90% of these new cases could be reduced if there was proper and vigilant treatment and monitoring of the eyes.

It is important to get your eyes tested regularly. Even if vision loss has started, there are often treatment options available, provided that the condition is detected as early as possible.

What are the symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetes causes a weakening of the focusing ability of the eye. The effects can vary from day to day but vision improves when blood-glucose levels are well controlled.

Far more dangerous however, are the changes to the retina that may occur after several years of diabetes. Initial changes, known as non-proliferative retinopathy, have no impact on vision and can only be detected with an ophthalmoscope. If left unchecked, this can develop to proliferative retinopathy which has severe impacts on vision and leads to blindness.

Initial symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include blurred vision, difficulty seeing colors, dark or empty areas in your vision, and an increase in the number of floaters. These symptoms can progress from mild to severe, potentially leading to vision loss if not managed properly. Regular eye exams are crucial for early detection and management.

Who is most at risk of eye damage from diabetes?

The following groups have elevated risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.

  • Individuals with irregular blood sugar levels: Increases risk of retinal vessel damage.
  • People with high blood pressure and cholesterol: Can worsen retinal vessel damage by hardening and narrowing arteries.
  • Tobacco users: Smoking worsens blood vessel damage and affects eyesight.
  • Older adults: Increased risk due to potential long-term diabetes.
  • Pregnant women: Risk rises with blood sugar level fluctuations and hormonal changes.
  • Those with family history of diabetes: Increases susceptibility to diabetic retinopathy.
  • Certain ethnic groups: Higher prevalence among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, African-American, Hispanic, and South Asian communities due to higher diabetes rates and associated risk factors.

How is diabetic retinopathy treated?

Diabetic retinopathy treatment focuses on slowing the progression of the condition and includes managing blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Treatments can range from laser surgery, which works by sealing or shrinking leaking blood vessels, to injections of corticosteroids or anti-VEGF drugs that reduce swelling and inhibit growth of new blood vessels. For advanced stages, vitrectomy surgery might be recommended to remove blood from the middle of the eye or scar tissue.

VisionPro can refer you to an ophthalmologist if necessary, for advanced treatment.

When should I see an optometrist for treatment?

You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience sudden vision changes, blurriness, seeing floaters and flashes of light, or if a portion of your vision appears dark. These symptoms can indicate severe complications from diabetes, such as diabetic retinopathy progressing to a critical stage, and require prompt evaluation and treatment to prevent permanent vision loss.

But in general, you should seek regular eye examinations to catch and treat the condition early, especially if you are in any of the high risk groups.


If you are concerned about diabetes, please make an appointment