Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

brand logo

Am Fam Physician. 1999;60(3):1001

How does diabetes affect my eyes?

Diabetes makes your blood sugar level higher than normal. High blood sugar levels can weaken your blood vessels, including the small blood vessels in the retina. (The retina is the part of the eye that's sensitive to light and helps you see.) This damage is called diabetic retinopathy.

When the blood vessels in the eye are weak, they can leak fluid, which causes swelling in the eye. The swelling blurs your vision. If the retinopathy gets worse, your eye makes new blood vessels over the retina. But these new blood vessels are very weak and break open easily, which causes bleeding into the eye. Scar tissue can form, which may make the retina break away from the back of the eye.

Is diabetic retinopathy serious?

When retinopathy is found early, before it has done too much damage, it can be treated or slowed with laser treatment. If it's not treated, diabetic retinopathy can lead to blindness.

How should I take care of my eyes?

The main thing is to have your eyes examined regularly. You won't notice the early signs of diabetic retinopathy because these changes in your eyes can only be seen with special equipment.

Eye exams are especially important if you're pregnant. Pregnancy can cause you to start developing diabetic retinopathy or can make it worse.

What else can I do?

Watch for warning signs of eye problems. Call your doctor if you notice any of the signs in the box below:

You can also help prevent eye problems (and other health problems) by taking care of yourself and keeping your blood sugar level low. See the tips in the box below:

Warning Signs of Eye Problems

  • Blurred vision for more than 2 days

  • Sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes

  • Black spots, “cobwebs” or flashing lights in your field of vision

  • Pain or pressure in one or both eyes

Tips on Preventing Eye Problems

  • Control your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol.

  • Exercise.

  • See your family doctor regularly.

  • Follow a good diet. Talk to your doctor about what to eat.

  • Quit smoking.

Continue Reading

More in AFP

Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP.  See for copyright questions and/or permission requests.