How Diabetes Affects Your Eyes

Hello! I’m Dr. Erin Lally, a board-certified ophthalmologist with a specialized focus on cataract surgery and the retina. Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed how systemic conditions, especially diabetes, can profoundly affect one’s vision. Today, I’d like to delve deeper into how diabetes impacts the eyes, the importance of monitoring hemoglobin and A1C, and the typical treatment approaches of diabetic retinopathy. Managing your diabetes, getting regular eye exams and closely monitoring your blood sugar levels can help prevent eye diseases and protect your vision.

How Does Diabetes Affect My Eyes?

The retina, a light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye, is integral to our vision. It’s like the screen in a camera, capturing images and sending them to the brain. Diabetes can wreak havoc on this delicate tissue, mainly through its impact on the retina’s blood vessels. When these vessels are affected, a slew of complications can arise.

Complications of Diabetes on Your Eyes

Diabetic Retinopathy

The leading cause of vision loss among diabetics, it stems from high blood sugar damaging the retina’s blood vessels, causing them to swell, leak, or become obstructed. In advanced stages, new abnormal blood vessels can proliferate, leading to further complications.

Diabetic Macular Edema (DME)

Fluid accumulates in the macula, causing central vision loss.


Diabetics tend to develop cataracts earlier in life.

Hemoglobin, A1C, and Eye Health

Hemoglobin A1C is a crucial blood test that gives an average of your blood sugar levels over the past two to three months. Ideal A1C levels are generally below 6.5% for most adults with diabetes. A higher A1C level increases the risk of diabetic retinopathy and other complications. Keeping your A1C in check provides a clearer picture of your overall diabetes management and reduces the chances of developing diabetic eye diseases.

The Eyes: Windows to Vascular Health

The eyes, particularly the retina, offer a detailed view of the body’s vascular health. Through comprehensive eye exams, we can detect early signs of diabetes and vascular complications elsewhere in the body, emphasizing the eye’s role as a crucial health indicator.

What Can I Do To Prevent Eye Complications as a Diabetic?

Prevention is primarily about effective diabetes management:

  • Regular Eye Examinations: Annual comprehensive dilated eye exam is vital. Early detection and timely intervention is very important. 
  • Control Blood Sugar Levels: Consistently maintaining blood sugar within the recommended range mitigates the risk of vascular eye damage.
  • Manage Blood Pressure and Cholesterol: Keeping these factors under control will directly impact eye health.
  • Quit Smoking: Smoking can accelerate diabetic retinopathy.
  • Stay Informed: Understanding diabetes and its potential complications empowers you to make informed health decisions.

Collaborative Treatment Approach

When it comes to treating diabetic retinopathy, the journey often involves a team:

Strict Glucose Management

Strict Glucose Management: Intensive diabetes management can significantly decelerate the progression of retinopathy. Collaborate closely with your endocrinologist or primary care physician.


Medications such as anti-VEGF agents and corticosteroids can be injected into the eye. These can:

  • Reduce swelling of the macula
  • Decrease the growth of abnormal blood vessels
  • Prevent progressive vision loss

Laser Treatments

Effective in sealing off leaking blood vessels and curtailing the growth of abnormal vessels.


For advanced retinopathy where blood leaks into the vitreous, this procedure removes the blood and vitreous, replacing it with a clear solution.

Remember, treatment is a collaborative effort. Engaging with your ophthalmologist, primary care provider, and endocrinologist ensures a comprehensive approach, maximizing your chances of maintaining excellent eye health.

With awareness, proactive management, and the collaborative efforts of your medical team, diabetes can be managed!  My mission as an ophthalmologist is to steer my patients toward optimal eye health with the latest technology and practices. For all diabetics, regular check-ups and adherence to medical advice are paramount. Cherish your vision, and with the right care, it will serve you brilliantly for years.

Dr. Erin Lally, MD

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