Diabetes can cause diabetic retinopathy and cataract. Initially, diabetic retinopathy may cause no symptoms or only mild vision problems. Eventually, however, it can result in blindness. Diabetic retinopathy can develop in anyone who has type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes.
It’s possible to have diabetic retinopathy and not know it. In fact, it’s uncommon to have symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy causes the abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina. Complications can lead to serious vision problems like bleeding in the eye, retinal detachment and glaucoma (high eye pressure). Eventually, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma or both can lead to complete vision loss.
Yearly dilated eye exams are an important part of your diabetes treatment plan even if you have no symptoms. Contact your eye doctor right away if you experience sudden vision changes or your vision becomes blurry, spotty or hazy.
Ask a family member or friend (driver) to come with you, if possible, as your doctor may request to dilate your pupils. This allows a better view inside your eye. The drops may temporarily cause your vision to be blurry and eyes sensitive to light until they wear off several hours later.
Women with diabetes who become pregnant need to have an eye exam during the first trimester of pregnancy and possibly again later in the pregnancy, depending on the results of the first exam. The reason for this is that pregnancy can sometimes worsen diabetic retinopathy.
Optical coherence tomography
Your eye doctor may perform an optical coherence tomography (OCT) exam. This test is helpful in the decision making and monitoring process in diabetic eye disease. If you have proliferative diabetic retinopathy, you’ll need treatment. Depending on the specific problems with your retina, options may include eye injections, laser (not the same as laser to correct vision), and surgery.
Remember, diabetes doesn’t necessarily lead to poor vision. Taking an active role in diabetes management can go a long way toward preventing complications.
Elevated blood sugar levels can also affect the eyes’ lenses. With high levels of sugar over long periods of time, the lenses can swell, providing another cause of blurred vision.