Diabetes and the eye

Length: 3 minutes read
Date added: 03/04/24
Author: Optical Team

According to Diabetes UK, more people than ever have Diabetes. 

Currently, more than 4.9 million people in the UK have diabetes, with many more living with Type 2 diabetes but are yet to be diagnosed. Diabetes seems to be on an upwards trajectory, and if nothing changes, Diabetes UK predicts that 5.5 million people will have diabetes in the UK by 2030. 

Diabetes UK states: “Diabetes is one of the leading causes of preventable sight loss in the UK – More than 1,700 people have their sight seriously affected by their diabetes every each in the UK. That’s more than 30 people every week.” 

The key thing to note is that it is often times preventable. When diagnosis is early, your diabetes is properly managed and you attend regular eye examinations, keeping your eyes healthy can prevent sight loss. 

Several eye conditions can affect people with diabetes – such as: 

  • Diabetic retinopathy 
  • Diabetic macular edema (DME) 
  • Cataracts 

Regular examination of your eyes by a skilled optometrist can detect the earliest signs of diabetes-related eye problems and can help avoid deterioration of vision and other complications for the future. 


Diabetes is a serious condition where your blood glucose level is too high. This happens either because the pancreas does not produce enough insulin (a hormone that regulates blood sugar), or because the body’s cells do not respond effectively to insulin, or both.

There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.

Type 1 Diabetes means your body can’t make any or enough of a hormone called insulin. The exact cause is unknown. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, although it can occur at any age.  Fewer than one in 10 people in the UK who have diabetes have type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes means you can’t produce enough insulin or what you make can’t work effectively – known as insulin resistance. This type of diabetes is more common in adults, although it’s increasingly being diagnosed in children due to rising obesity rates. Type 2 diabetes is often associated with lifestyle factors such as obesity, physical inactivity, and poor diet. There’s no cure but some people with type 2 diabetes can put their diabetes into remission.

Checking and managing your blood sugar levels is important to help you reduce your risk of serious short or long-term health problems. Known as diabetes complications.

If your diabetes is not properly managed, it can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, and vision problems.

How does Diabetes affect the eye?

Long term, poor control of diabetes can damage your eyes. It causes changes to the network of blood vessels of the retina (the “seeing” part of the eye). The blood vessels become fragile and prone to becoming blocked, leaky or bleeding. This causes damage to the retina, leading to vision impairment. Known as diabetic retinopathy. It tends to be a common complication of being a diabetic. 

Retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults in the UK.

As a consequence of diabetic retinopathy, swelling can take place, called diabetic macular edema. People with diabetes are also more prone to develop cataracts and glaucoma at an earlier age, contributing to a reduction in vision. 

At Whitby & Co Optician, our eye care professionals recommend that diabetic patients have annual eye examinations. All forms of diabetic eye disease have the potential to cause severe loss of sight and blindness, but regular follow-up and care can prevent this. 


Here are 5 practical steps you can take throughout the year to help protect your vision and prevent these conditions from stealing your view of your loved ones and the world around you: 

  1. Come in for a comprehensive eye examination once a year. Even if you haven’t noticed any problems with your vision.
  2. Manage your blood sugar – Take medications as prescribed
  3. Stay physically active
  4. Maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle
  5. Stop smoking, as this plays a significant role in eye damage


We diagnose some complex eye problems that may require specialist care. A crucial aspect of our service is providing fast-track access to our network of consultant ophthalmologists. If you require further specialised medical help, we will refer you as necessary.



Whitby & Co. Optician is an independent optician in the heart of London. Established for over 30 years, we provide high-quality eye care to all.

Book an eye examination with our experienced opticians today by calling us on +44 207 353 4455 or book an eye examination online. 


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