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What is diabetes? 
The pancreas in the body produces a hormone called insulin. The blood in the body gets glucose from food, and insulin is used to process the glucose so that we can use the energy to work and play. Diabetes is when there is a problem with producing the right amount of insulin or when the insulin is not working as it should, resulting in more glucose in the blood than our body likes.

Why does diabetes affect the eyes?
Any problems with the blood supply can affect the organs in the body, including the eyes. There are many ways in which diabetes affects the eyes, and they are all categorised as diabetic eye disease.

Diagram of the eye
Diagram of the eye

How does diabetes affect the eyes?
The retina at the back of the eyes is crucial to allowing us to see. Diabetes results in bleeding and cell damage at the retina, affecting the vision. This is called diabetic retinopathy, or diabetic maculopathy if the damage is at the central area of the retina. This is the most common way that diabetes affects the eyes, and for this reason, all diabetic people are encouraged to have regular eye examinations.

How else does diabetes affect the eyes?
Diabetes affects the eyes in many other ways. It can cause blurred vision if the sugar level is particularly high, or it can affect the muscles of the eyes, not allowing both eyes to work together like they may have done in the past, e.g. in a diabetes-related squint. The eyelids are more prone to developing cysts, and there are increased chances of developing dry eyes or bacterial conjunctivitis. The cornea at the front of the eye can also lose some of it’s integrity through diabetes. The coloured part of the eye called the iris can also get damaged because of diabetes, and the pupils can become small and irregular, affecting how well they work in the dark and light. There is also greater risk of developing cataracts and glaucoma with diabetes.

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Can anything be done about diabetic eye disease?
First and foremost, good diabetes control needs to be achieved through diet and medication. Targeted treatment of diabetic eye disease depends on the type of eye problem. Diabetic retinopathy or maculopathy can be treated with laser or injected medication, or other treatments may be explored in severe cases. The other diabetic eye problems have their own specific treatment methods. Click on the links above to find out more.

Last words
We should never be lax about diabetes. Diabetic eye disease can creep up slowly and we should act before it’s too late. Look after your diet and sugar levels to look after your eyes! This advice is equally important to non-diabetic as well as diabetic people.

Useful link: visit RNIB for more information on diabetic eye disease.

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