You probably know diabetes can affect your eyesight. How does this happen, and what are the most common diabetic eye problems? In this post, we answer some of the questions we hear most frequently from our patients with diabetes.

diabetes-1024x489Why does diabetes affect the eyes?

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes involve too much sugar in the blood. This causes inflammation in many areas of the body, including your eye’s blood vessels. High blood sugar can also make the lens of the eye swell, causing blurred vision.

Diabetes increases the risk of two common eye problems, cataracts and glaucoma. Researchers are still working to understand why.

Learn more about why diabetes causes eye problems.

What is diabetic eye disease?

The term “diabetic eye disease” is often used to mean diabetic retinopathy, both because it is simpler and because this is the most serious diabetes-related eye condition. When blood vessels in the retina are inflamed, they can become blocked, start to leak or both. Since the retina is the part of your eye that gathers images and sends them to the brain, the diabetic eye loses vision when this area is damaged.

Diabetic retinopathy often does not cause symptoms until the disease is advanced. In the advanced stages, the retina begins growing new blood vessels to try to repair the damage. However, these new vessels are abnormal and cannot help the eye repair itself. Instead, they also tend to leak and bleed, causing further vision loss.

What is diabetic retinopathy? Learn more here

Cataracts, glaucoma and vision problems Diabetes puts you at higher risk for cataracts and glaucoma. If you have diabetes, your glaucoma risk is 60 percent higher than normal. Learn about diabetes and glaucoma from the Glaucoma Research Foundation.

High blood sugar can also make the lens of your eye swell, causing blurred vision that goes back to normal when your blood sugar is back under control. In the short term, this problem is less serious than diabetic retinopathy, but it is an important sign that your blood sugar is not well controlled.

What is diabetic eye screening?

A diabetic eye exam, or diabetic eye screening, is a complete eye examination for diabetes-related eye changes in your eyes. It is a very important part of diabetes care, whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

Learn why diabetic eye exams are so important and what a diabetic eye exam involves.

How often do I need a diabetic eye exam?

Here are the current diabetic eye screening recommendations.

If you have . . .

You need a diabetic eye exam …

Type 1 diabetes
  • Within 5 years of learning you have diabetes, then at least once a year.
  • More often if you have any diabetes-related eye problems
Type 2 diabetesWhen you learn you have diabetes, then at least once a year.
Type 1 or 2—pregnant or planning a pregnancyBefore you become pregnant or first 3 months of pregnancy.

What is a diabetic eye doctor called, and where can I find one?

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (M.D.) who specializes in eye care. If you have diabetes, see an ophthalmologist for regular diabetic eye exams. He or she is trained to look for signs of diabetes in the eye and can talk with you about treatment options if diabetes affects your eyes.

Your ophthalmologist can share information with your endocrinologist (diabetes doctor) and primary health care provider (family doctor) to help control your diabetes and protect your eyesight.

Questions about diabetic eye care

If you have questions about diabetic eye care, or have not had a diabetic eye exam in the last year, the doctors at Oregon Eye Specialists can help. We have 10 conveniently located clinics and are always welcoming new patients of all ages. If you or someone you know needs eye care, please call us at 503-935-5580 or request an appointment online today.