Retinopathy, Cataracts and Glaucoma

Early detection of eye problems will allow for more effective treatment and could halt the progression of further damage to your vision. Diabetes can lead to serious eye problems including blurred vision, diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma. Keeping your blood sugar within your target range is one of the best ways to prevent eye complications. And it's a good idea to be proactive in preserving your eyesight by visiting your eye doctor yearly for a full exam.


Retinopathy is a serious eye disease associated with diabetes. Treatments are available, and the most successful are usually applied during the early phases of the condition. You should see your ophthalmologist every year to be checked for the two types of retinopathy: non-proliferative and proliferative.

Non-proliferative retinopathy is a mild form of retinopathy which may slightly decrease vision. Abnormalities are limited to the retina and usually will only seriously interfere with vision if they involve the macula (the area of the retina that gives us the sharpest vision). The earlier this type of retinopathy is discovered, the more successful the treatment. If left untreated, it can progress to proliferative retinopathy.

Proliferative retinopathy is a more serious condition in which new blood vessels branch out in and around the retina. These new blood vessels are very thin and fragile; they easily break and cause bleeding in the fluid-filled center of the eye. Serious diabetic eye disease may also lead to swelling of the retina. Either one may lead to blindness.

Early Cataracts

People with diabetes are at risk for developing cataracts at an earlier age than people without diabetes. A cataract is a cloud over your eye's lens, usually caused by a thickening of the tissue in the lens. As a result, light cannot be focused properly on your retina and vision becomes cloudy. This condition may be corrected by a surgery in which the lens is removed and a plastic lens is inserted in its place.


People with diabetes are at risk for developing glaucoma at an earlier age than people without diabetes. Glaucoma is a condition caused by the buildup of pressure in the eye that can, over time, damage the optic nerve. The first symptom of glaucoma may be loss of vision from the sides of the eyes. Glaucoma can be treated by an eye doctor with special daily eye drops that lower the pressure in the eyes. Laser surgery is another alternative to reducing eye pressure. It is essential that you have your eye pressure measured by an ophthalmologist or other doctor every year.

Be sure to schedule yearly eye exams, which should be performed by an opthamologist who has been trained to look at the back of the eye. During your exam, ask the doctor to check for signs of diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma.

Smart Tips: Proper Eye Care

In between your annual visits, you should call your doctor if you experience any of the following signs of eye disease: 

  • Blurry vision 

  • Double vision 

  • Difficulty reading 

  • Pain or pressure in one or both eyes 

  • Rings, flashing light, or blank spots 

  • Spots or "floaters" appearing in your field of vision 

  • Decreased peripheral vision 

  • Bleeding in your eye 

If you have diabetes and you become pregnant, consult with your eye doctor within the first three months to check for retinopathy. Tight diabetes control during pregnancy can affect existing retinopathy.

And finally, if you smoke, here is another reason to quit. Smoking narrows the small blood vessels in your eyes and will affect circulation.


Eye Disease Simulations
Click below to see the effects that diabetes related eye diseases can have on vision.
Normal Vision
Scene as it might be viewed by a person with normal vision
National Eye Institute,
National Institutes of Health
Severe Diabetic Retinopathy
Scene as it might be viewed by a person with severe diabetic retinopathy
National Eye Institute,
National Institutes of Health
Scene as it might be viewed by a person with cataracts
National Eye Institute,
National Institutes of Health
Scene as it might be viewed by a person with glaucoma
National Eye Institute,
National Institutes of Health

The BD Diabetes Learning Center describes the causes of diabetes, its symptoms, and diabetes complications such as retinopathy and neuropathy. This site contains detailed information about blood glucose monitoring, insulin injection and safe sharps disposal. Interactive quizzes, educational literature downloads and animated demonstrations help to teach diabetes care skills.

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