Can diabetes lead to blindness?

Written by: Ms Theresa Richardson
Edited by: Laura Burgess

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes it can be a frightening prospect, however, it is not inevitable that it will ultimately cause blindness. Here, one of our leading ophthalmologists Ms Theresa Richardson explains the link between diabetes and impaired vision, and what preventative measures you can take.

How can a diabetic patient reduce their risk of visual impairment?

Diabetic patients have a part to play in preventing blindness. If they control their blood sugars very well, looking not only at short-term but long-term blood sugar control, or HbA1c, they can reduce this risk by a huge amount. 

In the UK, we have a national programme that screens all diabetics, which is incredibly effective. We have reduced blindness from diabetes in the working population as the number one cause.

How can diabetes cause blindness?

I don’t use the word ‘blindness’ as this is a very emotive term, so I prefer to say impaired sight. Vision loss is caused by either of two mechanisms:

  1. Bleeding into the cavity of the eye from tiny blood vessels that grew in response to diabetes.

    Blood vessels in the back of the eye can get coated in sugar. The blood supply to the retina is reduced so your body produces the hormone vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which makes new blood vessels. These can suddenly bleed, cause floaters and loss of vision. The treatment for this is laser surgery.
  2. Fluid accumulates in the centre of the retina and makes vision a bit cloudy, especially for reading. It is very treatable with eye injections.

What is your overall advice?

The take-home message is to ensure that your eyes are often screened for new vessels and fluid in your retina, to prevent you from going blind from diabetes. Having worked in this field for 30 years with vigilant care and timely intervention I have prevented thousands of patients from losing vision and recovered patients who thought they had irreversible vision loss.

Do not hesitate to book an appointment with Ms Richardson now via her Top Doctor’s profile, if you would like her expert advice about diabetic retinopathy, in your case.

By Ms Theresa Richardson

Ms Theresa Richardson is a highly experienced ophthalmologist with over 26 years of experience, based in London. From her private clinics at the Western Eye Hospital, BMI Shirley Oaks Hospital and Charing Cross Hospital, Ms Richardson specialises in cataracts, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. At present, she is the leading ophthalmologist for eye casualties in west London and has received numerous clinical excellence awards for her work with the NHS.  

Ms Richardson qualified in 1991 from the University of London with honours in medicine and surgery. She was awarded the Esther Frances Williams prize for best overall performance in her year, with more prizes won than any other student. She completed her specialist ophthalmology training at Moorfields Eye Hospital and the Western Eye Hospital, where she received a fellowship in retina conditions and uveitis. Ms Richardson has held the position of medical retina and cataract trainer at both Imperial Health Care Trust The Western Eye and Charing Cross since 2014 and has been consultant ophthalmologist at BMI Shirley Oaks Hospital since 2003. 

Ms Richardson is a highly esteemed teacher of cataract surgery, with more than 26 years of training experience, having performed over 25 thousand cataracts, with a complication rate of less than 0.04 per cent. Her background in psychology ensures that her patients are not only provided with quality treatment but with quality care that is supportive and understanding of their individual needs. 

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