Nebraska Diabetes Prevention
and Control Program

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Eye Problems

People with diabetes are at increased risk for eye complication. Most people with diabetes will get some form of retinopathy, a disorder of the retina. Huge strides have been made in the treatment of diabetic retinopathy. The earlier problems are diagnosed the more successful the treatments can be, with the best results occurring when sight is still normal.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a serious disorder of the eyes that can lead to blindness. High blood sugar causes damage to the blood vessels that supply blood and nutrients to the retina. There are two types of retinopathy: non-proliferative and proliferative.

  • Non-proliferative retinopathy is the most common type of retinopathy. It occurs when blood vessels in the retina are blocked by swollen capillaries. Usually no vision loss occurs at this stage.
  • Proliferative retinopathy is more serious than non-proliferative retinopathy and can cause vision loss. Proliferative retinopathy occurs when small blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina. These vessels are very weak and can leak blood into the retina, causing vision to be blocked. Scar tissue can also form causing the retina to be distorted or pulled out of place.

Diabetic retinopathy can develop with no warning signs or changes in vision, however, some people experience blurred vision, vision changes, trouble reading, seeing rings around lights, dark spots or flashing lights. Having yearly dilated eye exams is important because a doctor can detect and treat any problems and prevent the worsening of the condition.

The risk of developing diabetic retinopathy increases the longer a person has had diabetes, however, keeping blood sugar levels in the target range and maintaining blood pressure at or below 130/80 mm/hg are two ways to prevent or delay the onset of diabetic retinopathy.


Glaucoma is a serious disorder of the eye that can cause blindness. People with diabetes are 40% more likely to suffer from glaucoma than someone without diabetes. The longer someone has had diabetes, the more common glaucoma is. Risk also increases with age.

Glaucoma is caused when the drainage of fluid from the front chamber of the eye is reduced or blocked. The pressure pinches the blood vessels that supply blood and nutrients to the retina and puts pressure on the optic nerve. The damage caused by the loss of blood and nutrients to the retina and continued pressure on the optic nerve cause vision to be gradually lost.

Treatment/Medications and surgery designed to relieve the pressure in the eye, and restore the blood flow to the retina are two methods of treatment. Early detection of glaucoma can slow and reverse the damage to the eye and preserve vision.


Cataracts occur in many people, however, people with diabetes are 60% more likely to develop cataracts than someone without diabetes. People with diabetes also tend to get cataracts at a younger age and have them progress faster. Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy blocking light and vision.

To help deal with mild cararacts, you may need to wear sunglasses more oftten and use glare-control lenses in your glasses. Cataracts that interfere greatly with vision are treated by surgery that removes the cloudy lens of the eye and replaces it with a new clear lens. It is important for people with diabetes to work closely with their primary care provider and optometrist to slow and delay the progression of these diseases.

For more information visit:
American Diabetes Association. Living with Diabetes: Complications
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC)
National Eye Institute

Contact Information
Diabetes Prevention and Control Program
Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services
P.O. Box 95026
Lincoln, NE 68509-5026

Phone: (402) 471-4411
1-800-745-9311 (ask for Diabetes Section)

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