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Diabetic Eye Disease: An Overlooked Aspect of Diabetes

If you have diabetes, you know that it requires constant monitoring of what you eat and drink. Frequent high blood sugar levels are a serious threat to your health, disrupting your body and its organs. But did you know that chronically high or unmanaged blood sugars can also damage your vision?

What Is Diabetic Eye Disease?

Today, approximately 29.1 million Americans are living with diabetes and are at increased risk of diabetic eye disease, which is a group of eye conditions that affect diabetics. These conditions include diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, and glaucoma. Thankfully, controlling your diabetes and blood glucose levels by taking prescribed medications, maintaining a healthy diet, and staying physically active should significantly counter the risks of your eye health suffering in this fashion.


Diabetic retinopathy is the leading form of diabetic eye disease. The retina -- cells in the back of the eye -- conveys what you see from the optic nerve to the brain, but in diabetic retinopathy, high glucose levels damage the tiny blood vessels that sustain the retina. Blood and fluids begin to leak, causing retinal swelling and cloudy vision or blindness. The longer you live with diabetes, the higher your risk.

Macular Degeneration

Having high glucose levels may make you more prone to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). A recent study in JAMA Ophthalmology showed that people aged 50 years and older with diabetes were at a higher risk of developing early AMD than people without diabetes. AMD occurs when the middle part of the retina (macula) weakens and deteriorates. The macula is responsible for clear central vision and is needed for activities such as seeing fine details, reading, and driving. People with AMD have blurred or dimmed vision, or see straight lines as wavy because of the deteriorated macula.


A cataract is the clouding of the clear lens of the eye. Cataracts cause your eyes to lose the ability to focus light, as well as blurring or glaring of vision. High glucose levels may place you at a higher risk of developing cataracts because of lens swelling. While anyone is at risk of developing cataracts, people with diabetes develop eye problems earlier than most, and the problems progress more quickly.


Glaucoma is caused by high glucose levels narrowing the small blood vessels in your eyes, leading to the buildup of fluid and excessive pressure. If left untreated, glaucoma may damage your optic nerve and blood vessels, triggering peripheral vision loss and blindness. If you're living with diabetes, you're nearly twice as likely to develop glaucoma.

Whether you're prediabetic or recently diagnosed, managing your blood sugar levels and getting regular eye exams with dilation will greatly lower your risk of developing serious, long-term vision problems. And remember, always contact your eye doctor if you experience any sudden vision changes.

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