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Published on November 16, 2020

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Diabetic Eye Care

Written by Antoinette Nelson RN, BSN, CDCES (Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist)

Did you know that diabetic eye diseases are the number one cause of vision loss in working aged people? Or that 95% of all diabetes related vision loss can be prevented by getting a yearly dilated eye exam? You read that right, 95% of diabetic eye diseases are preventable by just one 10 minute exam.

Annual Exams and Why They Matter

If you're diabetic, an annual eye exam is so important and why your doctor will ask if you have gotten your eye exam at every physical. The eye exam is more than just checking to see if you need glasses or a new eye glass prescription. The exam helps diagnose diabetic eye diseases. When these diseases are caught in the early stages, the treatment is the most effective. Now some may say, I’m not having any problems, why do I have to go yearly? Diabetic eye diseases can occur with no symptoms in the beginning stages. So, you could be experiencing diabetic eye complications and not even know it.

Diabetic Eye Diseases

There are four major types of diabetic eye diseases as described below:

Diabetes retinopathy is the most common type of diabetes eye disease. It is caused by high blood sugars that damage the retina. The retina is the part of your eye that detects light and sends signals to your brain through a nerve located behind of your eye. The high blood sugars also damage the vessels that lead to the retina causing them to bleed or leak. The vision deficient related to the bleeding vessels is blind spots.

Diabetic Macular Edema or DME is a fluid build-up in the macula, the central portion of the retina. This makes your vision blurry and can cause floaters in the eye.

Cataracts are the breakdown of the lens of the eyes by proteins. Diabetic patients are at a 60% increase risk of developing cataracts and they may show up an earlier age. Cataracts make vision blurry.

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the optical nerve in the eye. Having diabetes doubles the risk of getting glaucoma, which can lead to irreversible damage to the eye and complete vision loss. Glaucoma may cause your vision to be blurry and you may see a glare as well as a lack peripheral vision.

What else can I do?

Now, aside from the annual exam, you may be wondering if there is anything you can do on a daily basis that will help you preserve your vision and prevent diabetes eye diseases. Below is a list:

  • Control your blood sugars
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Maintain healthy cholesterol levels
  • Take all medications as directed
  • If you smoke, quit
  • Perform regular exercise
  • Attend all primary and specialty doctor appointments

It is important to remember that you are not alone in this fight to stay complication-free of diabetes. You have a team which includes your family, friends, PCP, other specialty providers, and support groups.


This article was written by our diabetes educator, Antoinette Nelson RN, BSN, CDCES (Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist). Learn more about our diabetes education opportunities or call our Diabetes Hotline at 919-209-3386.

Diabetes Hotline

Call 919-209-3386 or email JHdiabeteshotline@unchealth.unc.edu to ask for advice managing diabetes. Certified diabetes educators at Johnston Health answer the calls Monday through Friday. If we’re not available, leave a message, and we’ll respond within 48 hours.