Diabetes and keeping your eyes healthy

How can diabetes affect my eyes and eyesight?

If you have high blood glucose (sugar), you may be at risk of developing eye or vision problems.

What can I do to prevent eye problems?

To avoid eye problems associated with diabetes, you should:

  • manage your diabetes;
  • monitor your blood glucose levels;
  • keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control;
  • quit smoking; and
  • see an eye care professional every 1-2 years for a complete eye exam (be sure to let them know you have diabetes). Within PEI there is coverage for the retinopathy screening portion of your eye exam every 1 to 2 years. To access this coverage, please inform your eye care professional that you have diabetes when booking or receiving your eye exam.

What are the signs of eye problems with diabetes?

Some signs of eye problems include:

  • difficulty reading;
  • blurring or double vision;
  • pressure or pain in your eyes;
  • blind spots;
  • dark spots;
  • flashing lights;
  • rings around lights;
  • floaters; or
  • cobwebs in field of vision.

What are some of the eye problems associated with diabetes?

  • Cataract: The lens of the eye becomes cloudy.
  • Glaucoma: The pressure inside the eye rises and damages the optic nerve.
  • Retinopathy: The blood vessels in the back of the eye become weak and bleed, causing damage to the retina. The retina is the coating inside the back of your eye that reacts so you can see.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of blindness in North America. If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you are at risk for retinopathy.

  • If you have type 2 diabetes, you should be tested for retinopathy at diagnosis.
  • If you have type 1 diabetes, it is recommended to have screening done 5 years after diagnosis, if you are 15 years of age or older.

There are many small blood vessels going back and forth across your retina. Over time high blood glucose levels and high blood pressure can weaken these vessels, making them leak or bleed. The bleeding can lead to blurred vision and blindness.

There are two type of retinopathy which can lead to loss of sight:

Proliferative retinopathy: New blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina and attach to the clear vitreous that makes up the inside of the eye. If these blood vessels bleed; they cause clouded vision and can damage the retina.

Macular edema: Damaged blood vessels around the retina can leak fluid and lipids into the macula (the part of the retina responsible for central vision); this can swell and cause macular edema. Macula edema creates blurred vision and if not treated quickly, may lead to substantial loss of vision.

How is retinopathy treated?

A laser beam can be used to repair damaged blood vessels which can help to prevent blindness. Laser surgery may bring back some vision already lost, and will usually keep the retinopathy from getting worse.

In its early stages, diabetic retinopathy can be successfully treated. Islanders can see an optometrist free of charge, and without a referral, for certain types of eye care including diabetic retinopathy and dry eye and red eye conditions. Diabetics can be seen yearly for diabetic retinopathy screening. 

For more information, visit the Canadian Diabetes Association website


Published date: 
June 30, 2021
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