Diabetes and the Eyes

Diabetes and the Eyes

November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and this year’s focus is managing diabetes by building your health care team- which includes an optometrist!

Diabetes is when your body’s blood glucose, or blood sugar, is too high. The pancreas produces insulin, which lowers blood sugar. When you have diabetes, your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin and sugar builds up in the bloodstream. Excess blood sugar causes the blood vessels in your body to narrow, blocking blood flow and causing damage. The small blood vessels in your body are prone to more damage- especially in your eyes, kidneys, and toes.

The two main types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is a genetic condition that usually (but not always) shows up early in life. Your immune system attacks and destroys the insulin producing cells in your pancreas. Type 2 usually shows up later in life and is due to lifestyle choices. Your body is unable to make enough insulin or the insulin you do make doesn’t work properly. It develops over time whereas Type 1 diabetes can come on suddenly. Type 2 diabetes accounts for more than 90% of those diagnosed, and while there is no cure, it can often be put into remission with lifestyle and dietary changes. Type 2 can be managed by diet, medication and exercise (and in some cases, insulin). Type 1 diabetes must be managed by taking insulin to control blood sugars.

Every day, 640 Canadians are diagnosed with diabetes, which equals one person every three minutes. Those numbers are only increasing, and there is unfortunately no cure.


  • Diabetes can cause blindness, heart attack and stroke.
  • The Canadian healthcare system spends about $50 million treating diabetes every day.
  • Diabetes can reduce a person’s lifespan by 5-15 years.
  • More than 230,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with diabetes in 2022.

Symptoms of diabetes can include frequent urination, increased thirst, weight loss or gain, blurry vision, numb and tingly hands and feet, fatigue, dry skin, slow to heal sores and increased infections.


Did you know that diabetes can be detected by your optometrist during a routine eye exam? Having annual, comprehensive eye examinations can help diagnose diabetes early on, sometimes even before symptoms start. Uncontrolled blood sugar can result in blurry vision, and an eye disease known as diabetic retinopathy.


During a routine eye exam, your optometrist will put drops in your eyes to dilate (open up) your pupils so they can get a better look at the retina (the back of the eye). This is where there may be evidence of diabetes. Uncontrolled blood sugars can show up as blood vessels in the retina that bleed and leak fluid, known as diabetic retinopathy. A complication of diabetic retinopathy is diabetic macular edema. This occurs when the macula swells, causing damage to the retina and vision loss. Early detection is important to manage the condition.

During your exam, your optometrist may recommend taking retinal photographs and/or performing a scan called Ocular Coherence Tomography (OCT). These imaging tests will provide a more detailed look into the back of the eye, and can help monitor for changes over time.

Treatment and management of diabetic retinopathy includes managing your blood sugar levels with your family doctor or endocrinologist, through medication and lifestyle changes. If vision loss is detected, you may need to be referred to an ophthalmologist for further treatment.

If you are diabetic or at risk of diabetes, ensure that you book an annual, comprehensive eye examination with your optometrist, in addition to your regular health checkup with your doctor.

If you notice sudden blurred or distorted vision, fluctuating vision or loss of vision, please do not hesitate to book your eye examination.