How does diabetes affect the eye?

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Diabetes can result in retinopathy or changes in the blood vessels of the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. The blood vessels may swell and leak fluid and/or new blood vessels grow on the retina surface, disrupting vision. Often there are no initial symptoms.
Diabetes has the potential to have negative effects on the eye when poorly controlled. Elevated blood sugar levels can cause the small blood vessels in the eye to be leaky, weak, and prone to blockage. This is called diabetic retinopathy. Additionally, the lens of the eye can become cloudy, and cataracts form in those with persistently high blood sugars. Annual eye exams are a must for diabetic patients.
Changes to the eye caused by diabetes are collectively known as diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes affects the eye in two ways:
  1. The changing blood sugar levels affect the lens of the eye and blood vessels in the retina
  2. Changes in the lens cause vision to blur with the changing blood sugar levels. The same fluctuations cause blood vessels to leak, including those in the eye.
Diabetes can affect many organs, and an annual examination of the retina is important because it is a good indicator of overall vascular status. Patients with insulin dependent or type 1 onset diabetes don't exhibit hemorrhages and exudates in the retina as early as patients with type 2. Early abnormalities in the center of the retina (macula) or in the peripheral blood vessels may be corrected with laser or other therapies.
Fluctuating vision caused by the change of sugar in the lens of the eye may be the first sign of diabetes along with extreme thirst and frequent urination. Insurance companies require primary care doctors to forward annual information, which includes an eye examination. Therefore, ophthalmologists are required to perform an annual eye care exam for diabetics. Many diabetics can actually improve through diet and exercise, of which both regulate their blood sugar and may require less medication. Diabetes represents a condition where there needs to be a strong partnership between patients and health care providers. It is often avoidable and manageable,and therefore it is important to recognize and treat it before profound complications such as diabetic retinopathy occur.

Continue Learning about Diabetic Retinopathy (Eye Damage)

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.