Diabetes mellitus, more commonly known simply as diabetes, is a classification of metabolic diseases that affect an afflicted individual’s blood sugar levels over a prolonged duration. Long-term complications can involve chronic kidney failure, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. Many people with diabetes are unaware that they have an increased risk of developing a variety of vision problems as well. Generally, regular eye examinations will prevent minor vision complications from spiraling out of control. Nonetheless, it is important to understand exactly what causes eye problems in diabetic individuals.


    Each and every last one of the cells in your body needs glucose to operate. Insulin is a peptide hormone that helps break down the glucose (sugar) in your body and distribute it to the body’s cells. People with diabetes either lack the ability to produce insulin, do not produce a sufficient quantity of insulin, or are unable to use insulin properly. Without the correct levels of insulin to break down glucose, blood sugar levels begin to build up. This condition, known as hyperglycemia, can cause the lens of the eye to swell, decreasing the sharpness of one’s vision.

    You may also experience blurred vision after initiating insulin treatment due to the shifting of fluids in the eye, but this problem usually disappears after blood sugar levels stabilize.


    Macular edema is the thickening or swelling of the eye’s macula. The macula is responsible for precise, pinpoint vision, and allows you to perform such actions as reading this blog, recognizing a face, or finding Waldo in a crowded Roman colosseum. Macular edema develops when the eye’s blood vessels are leaking fluids, and is the most common form of vision loss for individuals with diabetes.

    Diabetic retinopathy is a term used to describe retinal conditions caused by diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy is the result of damage to the small blood vessels that supply energy to the retina’s cells (the retina is the light sensitive area at the back of the eye). These tiny blood vessels leak blood and other fluids that cause thickening of retinal tissue and cloudy vision. Proliferative retinopathy is a condition in which additional tiny blood vessels begin to grow from the surface of the retina. As the retina becomes increasingly starved of oxygen and nutrients, capillaries can form on the retina in order to satiate depleted cells. Often, when the new blood vessels grow, they begin to pull on the underlying retina. If left untreated, proliferative retinopathy (and diabetes) can cause total blindness.

    People with diabetes are also 40 percent more likely to suffer from glaucoma than those without diabetes. Glaucoma occurs due to a buildup of pressure in the eye. Typically, the increased pressure slows the drainage of the aqueous humor, which serves to maintain the eye’s shape, which then accumulates in the anterior chamber. The pressure constricts the blood vessels that nourish the retina and optic nerve. Over time, vision worsens because the retina and nerve become damaged.

    Diabetes can cause a staggering variety of health and vision problems, and it is recommended that people with diabetes schedule regular eye exams to catch conditions before they become serious. Most diabetes-related eye complications can be treated if diagnosed early, so see your optometrist or ophthalmologist frequently.

    Do you think you might have eye problems resulting from complications with diabetes? Contact Silverstein Eye Care Centers today at (816) 358-3600 or request your appointment online. We can serve you at our convenient location in Independence/Kansas City.

    Posted September 29, 2015 by Silverstein Eye Centers
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