If you have diabetes

Diabetes can have a major effect on your eye health and greatly increase your risk of certain eye conditions. 

If you are diagnosed with diabetes it is very important that you have your eyes checked regularly, as the quicker diabetic eye disease is diagnosed and treated, the greater the amount of your sight that can be saved.

How does diabetes affect your eyes?

Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes blood glucose (sugar) levels to become too high, and people living with diabetes are also more likely to have high blood pressure. Consistently high blood glucose and high blood pressure can cause serious damage to your blood vessels, which are very important in the eyes as they supply blood to the light-sensitive retina. When these blood vessels are damaged, the retina cannot get the blood supply it needs, and so cannot work as it should. This leads to a condition called diabetic retinopathy.

High blood glucose can also increase your risk of developing other eye conditions such as cataracts  and glaucoma.

If I have diabetes, what can I do to protect my eyesight?

Diabetes is the leading cause of preventable sight loss in the UK. So, the good news is that sight loss from diabetes can often be prevented! There are a number of things you can do to protect your sight if you have diabetes including:

Get your eyes screened annually

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Diabetic retinopathy can become quite advanced before you will notice it affecting your sight. Therefore, it is very important that you go for regular eye screening appointments so that this complication can be diagnosed and treated in time.

Everyone aged 12 years or over in the UK with diabetes is entitled to an NHS diabetes eye screening once a year. Make sure you attend yours.

Know your blood glucose levels

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If your blood sugar is consistently high, you face a higher risk of diabetic retinopathy and other eye conditions as a complication of diabetes.

Your healthcare team should help you set target blood sugar levels and show you how to check them at home. Your doctor can also check your average blood sugar level over a number of months with an HbA1c test.

The closer you can keep to your target blood glucose levels, the lower your risk of developing problems with your sight.

Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control

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High blood pressure and having high levels of fat in your blood (cholesterol) can damage or block the blood vessels in your eyes and damage your sight. 

Make sure your doctor checks your blood pressure and cholesterol levels at least once a year as part of your annual review.

Eat a healthy diet

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Eating healthily can help to keep your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol under control.

Choose foods that are lower in calories, sugar, salt, saturated fat and trans fat. Include fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, lean meats like chicken or turkey without the skin, fish and non-fat or low-fat dairy products in your diet, and swap out sugary drinks for water.

 Ask your healthcare team for support making a diabetes meal plan which you can follow.

Exercise regularly

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Exercise lowers your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol, and so exercising regularly helps to keep your diabetes under control and helps to protect against diabetic eye conditions.

Don't smoke

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Smoking damages your blood vessels, which combined with diabetes, greatly increases your risk of developing diabetic eye conditions.

For more information about diabetic eye conditions, see our A-Z of eye conditions.