Diabetic Eye Problems

Your retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of your eye.

Too much glucose, also called sugar, in your blood from diabetes can damage four parts of your eye: 

  • Retina: The retina is the tissue that lines the back of your eye. The retina converts light coming into your eye into visual messages through the optic nerve to your brain. 

  • Lens: The lens of your eye is clear and is located behind the iris, the colored part of your eye. The lens helps to focus light, or an image, on the retina. 

  • Vitreous gel: The vitreous gel is a clear, colorless mass that fills the rear of your eye, between the retina and lens.

  • Optic nerve: The optic nerve, at the back of your eye, is your eye’s largest sensory nerve. The optic nerve connects your eye to your brain, carries visual messages from the retina to your brain, and sends messages between your brain and your eye muscles.

Over time, having high blood glucose levels from diabetes can damage the tiny blood vessels on the retina. Retina damage happens slowly. First, the retina’s blood vessels swell. As retina damage worsens, the blood vessels become blocked and cut off the retina’s oxygen supply. In response, new, weak blood vessels grow on the retina and the surface of the vitreous gel. These blood vessels break easily and leak blood into the vitreous gel. The leaking blood keeps light from reaching the retina.

Regular exams can prevent most instances of severe vision loss or blindness from diabetes eye problems. These exams can also help you protect your vision and make sure you are seeing at your best.

You may not notice it at first. Symptoms can include

  • Blurry or double vision
  • Rings, flashing lights, or blank spots
  • Dark or floating spots
  • Pain or pressure in one or both of your eyes
  • Trouble seeing things out of the corners of your eyes

Your eye doctor can tell whether you have diabetes retina problems during a dilated eye exam. In a dilated eye exam, your eye doctor will use eye drops to enlarge your pupils. Your pupil is the opening at the center of the iris.

Enlarging your pupils allows your eye doctor to see more of the inside of your eyes to check for signs of disease. 

At the time of your dilated eye exam, your eye doctor also will conduct other tests to measure:

  • pressure in your eyes
  • your side, or peripheral, vision
  • how well you see at various distances

Have a dilated eye exam at least once a year, even if your vision seems fine.

Treatment often includes laser treatment or surgery, with follow-up care.

You can help your diabetes retina problems by controlling your:

  • blood glucose
  • blood pressure
  • cholesterol and triglycerides, or types of blood fat