World Diabetes Day: Diabetes and Eye Health

Diabetes is a life-long condition which can affect your blood sugar levels, by causing them to be too low or too high. However, it also has a significant impact upon eye health, and is actually one of the most common causes of sight loss among people of working age. To commemorate World Diabetes Day 2015, we explore the symptoms of diabetes and the effects of diabetic retinopathy, and we share our tips for good eye health with you.

Diabetes is a common condition, and there are two different types. In Type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes causes the body to not produce enough insulin, or results in the the body’s cells not reacting to insulin. Type 1 diabetes develops rapidly, whereas Type 2 has a gradual progression over time and is therefore not always easily detected.  It is important for people with diabetes to be able to control their own blood sugar levels through diet and insulin, to manage and prevent symptoms. 

Symptoms of Diabetes

Sometimes it’s easy to live with the little discomforts in life, and not to realise that you actually have a serious health condition. Please take the time to visit your GP and ask to be tested for diabetes, if you have been experiencing a combination of the symptoms below:

  • Feeling extremely thirsty
  • Frequent urination, especially at night
  • Weight loss and loss of muscle mass
  • Slow healing from small cuts and wounds
  • Exhaustion and tiredness
  • Thrush and itching
  • Blurred vision and dry eyes

It is important to seek treatment to manage diabetes, as uncontrolled diabetes can have significant long-term health impacts, including damage to the cardiovascular system, kidneys, nerves, gums and teeth, and eyes. This article explains the symptoms of and treatment for the diabetic eye, which is also known as diabetic retinopathy.

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes which is caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the cells of the retina over time. This can lead to blood vessels within the retinal becoming leaky or growing erratically, which can prevent light being detected by the retina. If  left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can result in loss of sight or even blindness.

The initial stages of diabetic retinopathy are not personally noticeable, but by the time symptoms begin to appear permanent damage may have already have been done to the delicate tissues of the the eyes. Therefore regular monitoring by a qualified ophthalmologist is absolutely essential for anyone who may be susceptible to diabetic retinopathy.


The treatment of diabetic retinopathy is dependent upon the stage of the condition. In it’s early stages, more severe disease can be prevent by improved control of your diabetes. However, more advanced retinopathy can require laser surgery or injection treatment to prevent further problems. Prevention is definitely better than cure in this scenario.

What Can You Do to Reduce Your Risk?

If you are diabetic and you want to understand and improve your eye health, the NHS can provide you with annual eye screening, where retinal photography is used to take an image of the blood vessels inside your eye.

There are many other healthy measures that you can take to reduce your chances of developing diabetic retinopathy. It is recommended that you manage your medication carefully to control your diabetes, monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, do not smoke, exercise frequently, and eat a healthy diet.

Finally, don’t forget to tell your optician about your condition or concerns, during your regular sight check ups. They will be able to monitor the health of your eyes, and they can help you to identify any issues before they become problems!


A retinal photograph of an eye with diabetic retinopathy.

Becky (SelectSpecs)

Becky Alexis-Martin is PhD researcher and journalist with severe myopia, who has worked for publications including The Guardian and Guru magazine. You can tweet her your thoughts about all things spec-tacular @CalamityCake

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