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.
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.
You can also download our full guide on eye conditions related to diabetes as a Word document (68KB)
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.
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.
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.
Trying to adjust after a diagnosis of sight loss can seem overwhelming at first and it might involve some changes to your life. We’re here to support you every step of the way – just give our Helpline a call.
You might also find it helpful to talk to our Eye Health team about your eye condition, get support from our Sight Loss Counselling service, or find out how to register as sight impaired.
Below are some guides that may be useful:
Getting emotional support
Benefits, concessions and registering as sight impaired
For information about Northern Ireland, please download our Benefits, Concessions and Certification in Northern Ireland leaflet:
Staying in work
Knowing RNIB is there is so reassuring, like a comfort blanket
Living with sight loss shouldn’t mean an end to doing most of the things you like to do. You can contact our Helpline for support, or start by reading our guides below on living confidently when you have sight loss.
Making the most of your sight
Leisure pursuits when you have sight loss
If you haven’t already, why not join RNIB Connect and get connected to other people affected by sight loss locally and across the country? Or try our free Talking Books service to enjoy reading in an accessible format, or tune into RNIB Connect Radio to hear news, information and advice for people affected by sight loss.
Staying independent with sight loss caused by diabetes
Sight loss can make managing your diabetes more difficult.
Carol finds that lighting, magnifiers and bumpons (a tactile aid) are some of the products that help her maximise her vision.
Products from our shop that can help
Diabetes UK is the leading charity who supports and connects those affected by diabetes.
Read information and advice on diabetes from NHS Choices.
Moorfields Eye Hospital has information on diabetic retinopathy.