Eye conditions related to Diabetes

Diabetes can affect your eyes in a number of ways. The most serious eye condition related to Diabetes is diabetic retinopathy.

Early diagnosis is vital. Most sight-threatening diabetic problems can be managed if treatment is carried out early enough.

Looking after your Diabetes and regular retinal screening can help to reduce your risk of developing the eye conditions related to Diabetes.

We’ve produced a downloadable guide that will give you an in-depth understanding of Diabetes related eye conditions as well as advice on coping with the conditions.

Understanding eye conditions related to Diabetes

Diabetes can affect your eye in a number of ways, but not everyone who has Diabetes develops an eye condition.

If you have Diabetes, it’s really important for you to have regular eye tests and diabetic retinal screenings.

It’s important that the changes Diabetes causes in your eye are picked up early because if treatment can be given at the right time, it can help prevent sight loss.

Download our Understanding eye conditions related to Diabetes guide

Our Understanding eye conditions related to Diabetes guide is accredited by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.

It’s designed to give you a detailed understanding of your eye condition and helpful advice on next steps.


Diabetic retinopathy

The most serious eye condition associated with Diabetes is diabetic retinopathy. It occurs when the tiny blood vessels at the back of your eye become blocked and leak.

There are different types of diabetic retinopathy -

  • Background diabetic retinopathy: Background retinopathy does not usually affect your sight, but your eyes will need to be monitored carefully to make sure your retinopathy doesn’t become worse.
  • Proliferative diabetic retinopathy: If background retinopathy gets worse, many of the retinal blood vessels become damaged or blocked. When these changes affect a large area of your retina, blood supply to the retina is reduced. The body tries to fix this by growing new blood vessels on the retinal surface or into the vitreous gel. Unfortunately, these new vessels are weak and they bleed very easily, which may affect your vision.


  • Diabetic maculopathy: When your macula (the central part of your retina) is affected by your retinopathy, you are said to have diabetic maculopathy. This means that your central vision, which is required for seeing fine detail and colour, will be blurred.

You can get a more in-depth look at the different types and associated treatments in our Understanding diabetes guide.


Reducing risk

You can reduce your risk of developing retinopathy, or help to stop it from getting worse, by:

  • Controlling your blood glucose level (also known as blood sugar level).
  • Tightly controlling your blood pressure.
  • Controlling your cholesterol levels.
  • Keeping fit and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Giving up smoking. Nerve damage, kidney and cardiovascular disease are more likely in smokers with Diabetes. Smoking increases your blood pressure and raises your blood sugar level, which makes it harder to control your Diabetes.
  • Getting regular retinal screening. The most effective thing you can do to prevent sight loss due to diabetic retinopathy is to go to your retinal screening appointments. Early detection and treatment can stop you from losing sight. If you’re pregnant and have gestational diabetes, you will have retinal screenings more often during your pregnancy and after your baby is born.


Treatment for diabetic retinopathy 

If your sight is at risk from retinopathy and it has been picked up early enough, you will be given laser treatment. The aim of laser treatment is to prevent bleeding or to prevent the growth of new blood vessels for people with diabetic retinopathy.

If you develop diabetic macula oedema you may be offered treatment with an injection into the eye. Whether you need treatment for macula oedema will depend on how much swelling you have in your macula.

You can get an in-depth look at laser and injection treatment in our Understanding Diabetes guide. 



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Staying independent with sight loss caused by Diabetes

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Helpful organisations

Diabetes UK is the leading charity who supports and connects those affected by Diabetes

Moorfields Eye Hospital is one of the world's largest centres for eye care and research

NHS Direct is the website for the NHS Direct health advice services, with information and advice about Diabetes related sight loss

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