Diabetes is an illness that impacts blood sugar levels. It is one of the main risk factors for developing cataracts, outside of age.

A cataract clouds the lens of the eye and can distort vision. Cataracts are one of the top causes of blindness in the world. Diabetes can cause several types of cataracts to form.(Learn More)

In diabetics, cataracts are related to elevated blood sugar.(Learn More) Cataracts often form as you age, and diabetes can speed up the formation of cataracts.(Learn More) To minimize the risk for cataracts as a diabetic, it is crucial to regulate your blood sugar levels.(Learn More)

Diabetic cataracts are treated through cataract surgery, which replaces the cloudy lens.(Learn More) Surgeons will need to take special precautions to manage diabetes with cataract surgery.(Learn More)

It is important to have your vision checked regularly. Early detection can minimize risks and increase success rates for treating diabetic cataracts.(Learn More)

What Are Diabetic Cataracts?

People with diabetes have up to quadruple the risk of developing cataracts before age 65 than people without diabetes. Studies show that nearly 25 percent of people with type 2 diabetes undergo cataract surgery while close to 10 percent of people with type 1 diabetes have cataract surgery.

Diabetes can increase the risk for developing the following types of cataracts:

  • Senile cataracts (age-related)
  • Snowflake cataracts
  • Posterior subscapular cataracts (PSC)
  • Nuclear cataracts
  • Cortical cataracts

A diabetic cataract is not a specific type of cataract. Rather, diabetes elevates the odds for the development of several forms of cataracts.

Development of Diabetic Cataracts

Diabetes occurs when your body either has issues producing or using insulin properly; therefore, blood glucose (sugar) levels are not properly regulated. When blood sugar levels get too high, it can cause a myriad of problems in the body, including in your eyes. Cataracts are one of the main eye complications related to diabetes.

Cataracts typically form over time and are due to changes in the lens fibers and protein in the eye. Generally, this is caused by age-related changes in the body.

In someone with diabetes, excess blood sugar can lead to the formation of cataracts more quickly. Cataracts can also be the result of illness or injury that leads to inflammation in the eye.

One or both eyes can be affected. Cataracts do not always grow at the same rate in both eyes.

Cataracts can form in different layers of the lens of the eye, starting small and getting bigger with time. As the tissue in the lens of your eye gets thicker and breaks down, it can clump together, causing a cataract that blocks light from passing unobstructed to the retina.

The cataract disrupts the natural movement of light between your lens and retina, which can account for blurry or cloudy vision. Cataracts often make it seem as if you are looking through a dirty or frosted window.

Timeline & Diagnosis of Diabetic Cataracts

Typically, cataracts form slowly over a long period of time, even years, and they are most common in people over the age of 55. Diabetes increases the risk for cataracts at a younger age, however. Cataracts can also progress at a much faster rate in people with diabetes.

Signs of cataracts can include the following:

  • Problems seeing and driving at night
  • Hazy vision in bright lights
  • Cloudy and/or blurry vision
  • Seeing spots
  • Halos around lights
  • Difficulty seeing up close and reading

Any changes in your vision should be discussed with your eye care provider, as they can run diagnostics to check for the potential presence of cataracts.

Prevention Guidelines

The majority of people with diabetes do not get proper and necessary eye exams that can help to minimize the risk for eye complications, including cataracts. Nearly all vision loss related to diabetes is preventable.

Diabetes can impact vision in several ways, from the formation of cataracts and glaucoma to macular edema and diabetic retinopathy. Preventing diabetic eye disease starts with proper health care.

Annual eye exams are a necessity, as they can help to catch any eye or vision problems in the early stages. It is also important to manage diabetes and keep blood sugar levels regulated.

Additional risk factors for cataracts include the following:

  • Smoking
  • Corticosteroid use
  • Exposure to radiation and ultraviolet light
  • Obesity
  • Eye injury or trauma
  • Age

Following your doctor’s treatment plan and living a healthy lifestyle can help to lower the risk for diabetic cataracts. A healthy diet, limited exposure to sunlight on your eyes, and regular exercise can help to keep them at bay. Keeping your blood sugar regulated, and lowering it even a small percentage, can have a huge impact in minimizing your risk for cataracts related to diabetes.

Treatment for Cataracts

In the early stages, cataracts can often be treated with changes to your prescription eyewear and wearing sunglasses in bright light situations. Early detection is important for managing cataracts and helping to keep them from spreading and growing as quickly.

Once cataracts are interfering with your daily life and making it difficult to see clearly enough to read and drive, it is usually time for surgery. Surgery is the only way to completely treat a cataract to improve vision. Cataract surgery involves removing the cloudy lens from your eye and replacing it with an artificial intraocular lens.

Cataract Surgery & Diabetes

Cataract surgery is a quick and common outpatient surgery with high success rates. Nearly 98 percent of cataract surgeries have no complications, are successful, and provide long-term results.

Cataracts do not always form in both eyes. When they do, you will need two separate surgeries to manage them. After surgery, it takes a few weeks for your eye to heal completely. At that point, a second surgery on the other eye can be performed, if necessary.

Ultimately, cataract surgery can restore clear vision that was related to a cloudy lens.

There are some complications with cataract surgery that are related to diabetes, including a higher risk of infection, macular edema, and diabetic retinopathy. Special precautions will need to be taken before, during, and after cataract surgery to manage diabetes as well as any potential complications.

Early Detection Is Key

Eye doctors will often recommend waiting until cataracts significantly impair your daily life and vision before seeking surgery. However, cataract surgery may have fewer complications and less potential for limited vision if the surgery is performed sooner in someone with diabetes.

It is important to keep up with eye exams every year to check for the presence of diabetic cataracts. It is also extremely important to keep your blood sugar in check.

Your eye doctor can often diagnose the presence of cataracts before you start to really notice significant vision changes. This can increase the success rate of a surgical procedure as well as lower your risk for vision impairment and other eye issues.

References

Priority Eye Diseases. (2020). World Health Organization (WHO).

Cataract in Diabetes Mellitus. (March 2019). World Journal of Diabetes.

Cataract. American Optometric Association (AOA).

Eye Complications. American Diabetes Association.

Cataracts and Diabetes. (January 2019). Diabetes.co.uk.

Considering Cataract Surgery? What You Should Know. (July 2018). Harvard Health.

Cataract Surgery in Diabetic Patients. (July/August 2010). Retina Today.