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Diabetes and Cataracts: How to Protect Your Vision

The relationship between diabetes and eye health is an extremely important one.

Cataracts are the most common cause of blindness and are responsible for more than 50% of the world’s blind population; around 20 million people are affected by the curable disease.

Clinical studies have shown that cataract formation occurs more frequently and at an earlier age in those with diabetes. People with diabetes mellitus statistically face a 60% greater risk of developing cataracts.*1

Elevated levels of glucose in the bloodstream can impact the nutrients and oxygen being supplied to the natural lens within the eye and to the outer window of the eye, known as the cornea. A cataract is a condition affecting the clarity of the natural lens within the eye. When blood sugar increases it can cause swelling in the lens or increase levels of sorbitol (a sugar alcohol) – resulting in blurry vision. This is not the only way in which diabetes can impact the formation of cataracts, but it is the most common.

Can you stop cataracts developing if you have diabetes?

If you have diabetes, the main step you can take to prevent or delay the onset of cataracts is to keep your blood sugar well controlled. Maintaining stable glucose levels can keep the eye’s lenses clear and healthy. Attend your diabetes screening regularly, monitor your levels and keep them in the target range.

Patients with Type 2 diabetes can reduce their risk of developing cataracts by 19%, by lowering their HbA1c level by just 1% over time.*2

Don’t put off your eye test – Optometrists are highly trained to detect any changes to your eye health long before you may be aware of them yourself.

Other behaviours can influence cataracts; be careful to avoid smoking, protect your eyes from UV lights (wear sunglasses), try not to use steroid medications and maintain a healthy lifestyle and nutritious diet where possible.

How do you know if you have cataracts?

It’s not always obvious when cataracts may be affecting your vision. At its initial stages, it may not have much impact on your vision which is why routine screening appointments can be vital to maintaining your eye health and early diagnoses.

The most common symptoms of cataracts include:

• Blurred or cloudy vision

• Areas where your sight is less clear

• Double vision

• Poor night vision

• Colours may look faded

• A brown or yellow tinge to your vision

How do you treat cataracts?

 If you suspect you have a cataract, the initial step is to schedule an eye examination with your optometrist. Despite being a major cause of blindness worldwide, cataracts are treatable. Typically, treatment involves surgery to replace the clouded natural lens in your eye with a synthetic lens known as an Intraocular Lens (IOL). This simple swap can work wonders, restoring clear vision and alleviating the visual interferences caused by cataracts.

Cataract surgery is typically brief, lasting around 15 minutes per eye, and is commonly performed under local anaesthesia, allowing you to remain awake without experiencing pain and visit your chosen provider as a day case. If both eyes require surgery, each eye may be treated on the same or separate occasions. Following the procedure, most patients can return home on the very same day, although it's worth noting that initial post-surgery vision may be a tad blurry before the full benefits become apparent.

To ensure a seamless recovery and optimal visual outcomes you should attend follow-up appointments with either your optometrist or surgeon in the months following the surgery. This diligent post-operative care ensures that your newfound clarity remains crystal clear. 

  1. Diabetes Complications: Cataracts, 2023
  2. British Medical Journal: Association of glycaemia with macrovascular and microvascular complications of Type 2 diabetes: prospective observational study, 2000; 321: 405-412.
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