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How Diabetes Affects Your Eye Health

Approximately 7.7 million Americans live with diabetic eye disease, the leading cause of blindness in people aged 20-74. It’s a prevalent diabetes complication that is easily preventable with expert eye care. 

Our team of expert ophthalmologists at the Retina Specialists offices — in Dallas, DeSoto, Plano, Mesquite, and Waxahachie, Texas — provide comprehensive diabetic eye exams to screen for diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, macular edema, and other diabetic manifestations.

Diabetic eye diseases don’t usually cause pain or other symptoms until your vision is permanently damaged. Fortunately, with regular eye exams, your ophthalmologist can spot any signs of a problem early and take action before your vision becomes permanently impaired. 

As they say, knowledge is power, so let’s explore how diabetes affects your eye health — and what you can do about it. 

How diabetes affects your eyes

When you have diabetes, your body doesn’t convert glucose — blood sugar — into energy correctly. If your disease isn’t managed, your blood glucose levels become elevated, which causes various problems throughout your body. 

One of the dangerous side effects of unmanaged diabetes is blood vessel damage. This damage can occur anywhere in your body, including in the tiny blood vessels in your eyes. They can start to leak blood and other fluids into your eye and onto your retina, a condition known as diabetic retinopathy. As the disease progresses, you grow new abnormal blood vessels that increase the leakage. 

About diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is the starting place for other diabetes-related eye diseases and vision loss. Retinopathy in itself can lead to blindness, but it also increases your risk of other eye diseases, including:

Diabetic macular edema

Your macula is the part of your retina at the back of your eye that provides your central vision. The abnormal blood vessels in your eye can cause swelling. While the edema might be temporary and subside when your glucose levels return to normal, the condition can lead to vision loss over time. 


Glaucoma is another leading cause of blindness. The disease develops when elevated pressure in your eye damages your optic nerve. If the blood vessels in your eyes are leaking fluid too rapidly for your eyes to drain, it can raise your eye pressure and cause glaucoma. 


If you have diabetes, not only are you more likely to develop cataracts, but you’re more likely to develop them at a younger age. The connection between diabetes and cataracts isn’t as clear cut as it is with other eye diseases. Still, medical researchers believe that elevated blood sugar levels can accelerate the buildup of deposits in the lenses of your eyes.

How to prevent diabetes-related eye disease

First, if you have diabetes, work with your primary care provider to manage your disease with medication, diet, and exercise. Keeping your blood sugar under control is critical to preventing diabetic eye disease and other complications.

Second, you should have comprehensive diabetic eye exams at least once a year, or more frequently if you have an elevated risk of eye disease. During a diabetic eye exam, we dilate your pupils and use specialized instruments to examine the insides of your eyes for any signs of eye disease. 

Call one of our offices to make an appointment if you need a diabetic eye exam or have any concerns about diabetic eye disease.

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