man checking glucose
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How Diabetes Affects Your Eyes

When your body doesn't make or use insulin properly, glucose can build up in your blood and harm your nerves and blood vessels. Damage in your eyes from high blood sugar levels can lead to vision problems and blindness. This can happen to anyone with diabetes.

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woman taking eye exam
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Don't Wait for Symptoms

When your blood sugar is high or when you start using insulin, you may have blurry vision. But your eyes could be damaged even if you don't see anything differently. That's why you should get an eye exam at least once a year.

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recital seen with retinopathy
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Diabetic Retinopathy

Your eye doctor will use a special dye to look for leaking blood vessels. They can cause swelling in your retina (where images focus inside the back of your eye) and decrease your vision. Poor circulation can cause new, weak blood vessels to grow on the retina. These are very prone to bleeding, which can also lead to loss of vision as well as retinal detachment.

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scatter laser treatment of diabetic retinopathy
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Laser Surgery

In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, your doctor may do a procedure called pan retinal photocoagulation with a laser to destroy large areas of your retina where the abnormal blood vessels grow. Less common focal treatment also uses a laser. It seals the blood vessels and stops them from leaking and growing. These surgeries won't bring your vision back, but with follow-up care, you can lower your chance of blindness by as much as 90%.

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treatment for macular degeneration
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Anti-VEGF Therapy

A newer treatment may be better for saving and improving vision, especially for people with diabetic macular edema, which is swelling in the very center of your retina. You get shots of medicine into the jelly inside your eye. It stops a protein needed to grow blood vessels. But it isn't a cure. You'll need to keep getting shots. The treatment and its long-term effects are still being studied.

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woman being prepped for eye surgery
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Vitrectomy

In the late stages of diabetic retinopathy -- if your retina has detached or a lot of blood has leaked into your eye -- your doctor may suggest this operation to remove scar tissue, blood, and cloudy fluid from inside your eye. Vitrectomy can improve your vision.

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Who Gets Diabetic Retinopathy?

Eventually, nearly everyone with diabetes will. The longer you have the disease, the more likely it is. Your odds will be higher when you don't have good control of your blood sugar or you have high blood pressure or cholesterol. You can also help prevent it by not smoking.

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Glaucoma

Although glaucoma can cause bright halos or colored rings around lights, it usually has no symptoms. You can lower the pressure inside your eye with drops or with laser or conventional surgery. If you don't treat it, the pressure can damage your optic nerve, resulting in vision loss and blindness. While anyone over 40 has a greater risk, people with diabetes are 40% more likely to get it. And your chances rise the longer you have diabetes.

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cataract in man’s eye
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Cataracts

A cataract makes the lens in your eye cloudy. This blocks light, and everything looks hazy. Poor control of blood sugar can speed up the process. You're 60% more likely to get cataracts with diabetes -- and you'll probably get them at a younger age. Surgery can replace the cloudy lens with a clear artificial one, but sometimes diabetic retinopathy gets worse afterward.

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See Your Doctor

Get emergency care for any sudden vision loss (including a "curtain" coming down over your vision), flashing lights, double vision, or severe eye pain or pressure. For these symptoms, make an appointment with your eye doctor as soon as you can:

  • Blurry or hazy vision
  • Spots, floaters, or shadows
  • Waviness or distortion of straight lines
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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 10/17/2018 Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD on October 17, 2018

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

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4) Lemoine / Age footstock

5) Dr P. Marazzi / Science Source

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8) Ralph C. Eagle Jr. / Photo Researchers, Inc.

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10) Anthony Cain / Flickr

 

SOURCES:

National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: "Prevent diabetes problems: Keep your eyes healthy."

FamilyDoctor: "Diabetes: Eye Care."

MedlinePlus: "Diabetes - eye care."

National Eye Institute: "Diabetic Eye Disease FAQ," "Facts About Diabetic Retinopathy."

American Diabetes Association: "Eye Complications," "Eye Care."

Diabetes Care: "Position Statement: Diabetic Retinopathy (2003)," "Ocular Anti-VEGF Therapy for Diabetic Retinopathy: Overview of Clinical Efficacy and Evolving Applications," "Ocular Anti-VEGF Therapy for Diabetic Retinopathy: The Role of VEGF in the Pathogenesis of Diabetic Retinopathy."

RNIB: "Anti-VEGF treatment."

US News & World Report: "Diabetes Seems to Heighten Glaucoma Risk."

Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD on October 17, 2018

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.