Diabetes and Eyes – Complications

Erasing eye drawing with pencil end

Diabetes is characterized by chronic high blood sugar levels or hyperglycemia. Poorly managed diabetes is one of the leading causes for many diseases including diabetic nephropathy, diabetic neuropathy, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, and diabetic eye problems.

Diabetes and eyes – Microvascular Damage

Chronic hyperglycemia leads to complex changes in the body causing damage to the small blood vessels. This is called microvascular damage. Microvascular damage and damage to the nerves are major reasons for many diabetic eye problems.

When the tissues of small blood vessels including arterioles, venules, and capillaries are chronically exposed to high blood sugar levels, there is cellular level damage. High blood sugar levels over a period of time tend to create oxidative stress. This oxidative stress produces protein derivatives known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These AGEs are mainly responsible for progressive cellular damage in the small blood vessels.

Microvascular damage or the damage to the small blood vessels is more significant in tissues whose glucose uptake is not dependent upon insulin activity. These include the nerves, eyes, and kidneys. That is why diabetes complications arising from microvascular damage is known as the microvascular triad – diabetic neuropathy, diabetic retinopathy and diabetic nephropathy.

Diabetes and eyes – Complications of the eyes

Since the eyes contain a complex network of small blood vessels, diabetes side effects start to show up in the eyes in the form of diabetic eye problems. In  fact, it is known that a significant number of people even in the prediabetes stage have some degree of diabetic retinopathy, a major diabetes complication and one that can lead to permanent vision loss.

Moreover, people who have been diagnosed with diabetes are at a risk of getting diabetic retinopathy just after three years of diabetes diagnosis. This is because of poor diabetes control, high fasting blood sugar levels, impaired glucose tolerance, high HbA1c, and high blood pressure.

This is certainly worrisome as diabetic retinopathy is silent in the initial stages. It does not show up any symptoms until a significant amount of the retina is damaged. Added to that, damage done to the retina is irreversible.

Diabetic retinopathy is a progressive condition that finally leads to retinal detachment, and permanent vision loss. That is why people with diabetes need regular eye tests in order to detect and prevent diabetic eye problems.

Diabetic eye problems

Diabetes side effects of the eyes are not just restricted to diabetic retinopathy. They spread to almost all the parts of the eyes leading to infectious conditions, erosion, nerve damage, and vision loss. Here’s a list of diabetes complications that arise in the eyes.

  1. Conjunctivitis
  2. Pinguecula
  3. Iritis (anterior uveitis)
  4. Iris transluminance
  5. Rubeosis iridis
  6. Smaller pupil sizes
  7. Diabetic ophthalmoplegia
  8. Corneal edema
  9. Diabetic keratopathy
  10. Diabetic cataracts
  11. Glaucoma
  12. Diabetic retinopathy

Most of these eye diseases can be well managed and prevented with proper diabetes control involving adherence to treatment, lifestyle modification with diet and exercise, regular screening tests, and self-monitoring of blood glucose levels as per the advice of a diabetes doctor.