Diabetes and the Eyes

How can diabetes mellitus affect the eyes?

Diabetes can affect the eyes in many ways:

  • Retinopathy – Diabetes can cause the blood vessels in the eye to become leaky and/or to grow abnormally. This can lead to swelling and bleeding in the eye as well as can lead to a retinal detachment.
  • Blurred vision – When blood glucose is high, the lens of the eye can become swollen and cause blurry vision. As blood glucose normalizes, blurry vision will typically improve. This may take many weeks after blood glucose levels have improved.
  • Cataracts – A cataract is clouding of the lens of the eye. This can occur at an earlier age in patients with diabetes

How can eye complications of diabetes be prevented?

Good blood sugar control is associated with a reduced risk of diabetic complications. It is important to start eye exams early so an eye doctor can document a child’s eye heath. Eye doctors can also screen children for retinopathy and other forms of vision loss.


When should eye exams start and how often should they occur?

Annual screening exams should start 3-5 years after the onset of disease in Type 1 diabetes and at the time of diagnosis in Type 2 diabetes. The development of vision threatening diabetic retinopathy is rare before puberty. Earlier exams may be necessary if a child is felt to be at high risk by an endocrinologist or if the child has vision issues.


How are these complications of diabetes treated?

Conditions concerning the retina can be treated with lasers, injections and surgery. Blurred vision due to fluctuating blood sugars should improve with better blood sugar control. In some situations, glasses may be required temporarily or prescriptions may need to be adjusted. Cataracts may be carefully watched for changes or removed through surgery if they are causing decreased vision.


Call your healthcare provider if:

Your diabetic child develops decreased vision, floaters in the eye or sees flashing lights.