Diabetic Eye Diseases: 5 Ways Diabetes Affects Your Eyes


The statistics on diabetes and eye health are skyrocketing as medical technology becomes more advanced and new methods of diagnosing issues are found. In fact, diabetic eye disease is the number one cause of vision loss amongst working-age adults. Diabetic retinopathy is the most common form of diabetic eye disease, affecting around 28% of diabetic Americans 40 or above, which translates to around 7 million people.

The cases of blindness that unfortunately result from this kind of eye disease, if caught early, can be preventable. However, symptoms are not often noticeable until the late stages of the disease, which is why patients receiving regular retinal exams is an essential component of ending preventative blindness.

But how and why does diabetes affect your eyes? And what measures can be taken to ensure that these diabetic eye diseases are prevented and diminished in our population?


Why Does Diabetes Affect Your Eyes?

There are three types of diabetes (type 1, type 2, and gestational). All involve one’s body improperly handling insulin, a hormone that delivers glucose (blood sugar) to the cells in your body. If an individual has too much glucose in their bloodstream because insulin is not carrying it to the cells, then this can cause damage to blood vessels and nerves. 

Over time, the body’s mismanagement of glucose causes the blood vessels around the retina to weaken. If signs of pathology in the retina are undetected and therefore left untreated, the vessels can rupture and leak blood into the eye. This can eventually lead to more severe consequences, including blindness.


How Does Diabetes Affect Your Eyes?

Diabetes can affect your eyes in several main ways. One of the first general signs of diabetes is blurred vision. 

Below are five ways diabetes can affect a patient’s eyesight: 


#1 Cataracts

Cataracts are characterized by a clouding of the internal lens of your eye. This lens is essential to being able to focus on things, and thus when a cataract forms, it impairs one’s ability to see. Cataracts can form earlier and get worse faster in people with diabetes. Noticing blurred vision, a glare, sensitivity to light, faded colors, or halos can all be symptoms of cataracts.


#2 Glaucoma

One of the forms of glaucoma, neovascular glaucoma, is caused by diabetes. Since damage of the retina’s blood vessels occur in those with diabetes due to the buildup of glucose in the bloodstream, it can subsequently result in the creation of abnormal new blood vessels. This causes high pressure in the eye, thus damaging the optic nerve, which in particular is known as Glaucoma. Symptoms of Glaucoma include tunnel vision, a halo effect, reddening of the eye, nausea, or vomiting.


#3 Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is the most dangerous eye disease in this list as the leading cause of blindness in American adults. Diabetic retinopathy is brought on by leaking of the blood vessels in the light-sensitive tissue of the eye. This can cause new blood vessels to form in place of the damaged one on the retina’s surface. 

Diabetic retinopathy is particularly dangerous because at the start of its development, there are little to no symptoms. Eventually, individuals experience spots or dark strings in their vision (called floaters), blurred vision, fluctuating vision, or dark/empty areas. Diabetic retinopathy’s quick symptomatic onset is one of the main reasons annual retinal screenings are so important to preventing blindness.


#4 Macular Edema

Macular edema is closely related to diabetic retinopathy. The macula is the center of the retina, which gives way for sharp, clear vision. It can swell because of the leaky blood vessels that diabetes can cause. This build-up of fluid causes the macula to swell and thicken, distorting vision because of it. It is a symptom itself of diabetic retinopathy. Symptoms of macular edema include wavy vision and color changes.


#5 Swelling of the Eye Lens

Another eye issue that can arise with a diabetic patient is swelling of the eye lens. If one’s blood sugar levels change from low to normal quickly, the shape of the eye lens can be affected and cause vision to blur. After blood sugar stabilization, vision tends to go back to normal, but it is still a temporary problem that can arise.


Diabetic Eye Disease Prevention

The best way for primary care physicians to ensure that their diabetic patients identify and treat these diseases early is to provide them with easy access to retinal screenings that identify these diseases in the stages in which they are still preventable.


Taking Steps Towards Treating Diabetic Retinopathy With IRIS 

Screening for potential degenerative eye diseases like cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy might seem like a heavy lift for a primary physician’s office. However, with comprehensive eye care solutions like Intelligent Retinal Imaging Systems, also known as IRIS, it becomes easy to implement and leverage artificially intelligent software that drastically improves the quality of care physicians can offer to their patients.

The IRIS solution applies image enhancement technology to all fundus images uploaded to our cloud-based platform. When a fundus image is taken and uploaded, the orange coloring and shaded areas of the photo— a common reason for ungradable images— are put through IRIS’s proprietary image enhancement algorithm which illuminates the vasculature and potentially hidden pathology. This innovative technology increases the gradeability of a traditional fundus image, or picture of the retina, to around 95%, whereas usually it hovers right around 80-85%. In turn, more accurate diagnoses of diabetic retinopathy are easily made possible. 

The benefits of IRIS extend far past our technology. With this fundus image enhancement comes optional access to the IRIS Reading Center, or the IRC. The IRIS Reading Center is composed of board-certified eye care providers who remotely diagnose retinal images via the IRIS Platform.

Interested in helping your diabetic patients catch and treat diseases like diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma? Reach out to us today for a demo to learn how you can help end preventable blindness.

Get started with IRIS today.

Want to know if IRIS is right for you? Schedule a one-on-one consultation with our team. We’re here to help.