Diabetic cataracts, a common complication of diabetes, can have a significant impact on a person’s vision and quality of life.
These cataracts are caused by structural changes in the lenses of the eyes as a result of prolonged exposure to high blood sugar levels. For individuals with diabetes, it’s important to regularly monitor blood sugar levels and schedule regular eye exams to detect the onset of diabetic cataracts.
Treatment options for diabetic cataracts include surgery to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial one. By managing diabetes, including controlling blood sugar levels, following a healthy lifestyle, and consulting with a health care professional, people with diabetes can lower their risk of developing diabetic cataracts and maintain good overall eye health.
What Are Diabetic Cataracts?
Diabetic cataracts are a common complication of diabetes. Individuals with diabetes have an increased risk of developing diabetic cataracts due to the formation of sugar cataracts on the lens of the eyes.
The eye’s lens naturally degrades with age, but for diabetics, the sugar alcohol sorbitol does not convert into fructose fast enough. This excess sorbitol leads to increased degeneration of the eye lens.
If you have diabetes, it is important to manage your blood sugar levels and visit an eye doctor to note any development of diabetic cataracts.
Risk Factors in People With Diabetes
The main risk factors for diabetic cataracts are having diabetes for a long time and poor metabolic control. Essentially, uncontrolled diabetes leads to diabetic cataracts.
The progression of diabetic retinopathy, a condition where the retina’s blood vessels are damaged, increases the risk of diabetic cataracts. Other factors that can contribute to the development of diabetic cataracts include the use of diuretics, higher levels of glycosylated hemoglobin, low intraocular pressure (IOP), smoking, and low diastolic blood pressure.
Age is another primary risk factor for the development of diabetic cataracts. Patients over 65 years old are twice as likely to develop cataracts in general, so people with diabetes are at an even higher risk as they age.
Symptoms of Diabetic Cataracts
Diabetic cataracts can present with a range of symptoms, some of which may overlap with other eye conditions like glaucoma. These symptoms can include the following:
- Difficulty seeing in low-light conditions
- Sensitivity to bright lights
- Dull or faded colors
- Reduced night vision
- Halos around lights
- Difficulty reading in dimly lit rooms
- Frequent changes in eyeglass prescription
It’s important to note that some of these symptoms may be similar to those seen with other eye conditions. Because of this, a proper diagnosis should be made by a medical professional.
When to See a Doctor
If you have diabetes, it is crucial to monitor your vision and eye health, and schedule regular eye exams. If it has been over a year since your last vision test, or if you have noticed any unexplained changes in your vision, it is essential that you schedule an appointment with an eye doctor immediately.
Your eye doctor will be able to determine the cause of these changes and recommend the best course of treatment. Your visit will likely include a comprehensive eye exam, which can detect diabetic cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.
Regular eye exams can help you to catch any issues early and take steps to preserve your vision for as long as possible.
Treatment of Diabetic Cataracts
Diabetic cataracts are typically treated through surgery. During this procedure, the cloudy natural lens of the eye is removed and replaced with an artificial lens, called an intraocular lens (IOL).
The surgery can be done on an outpatient basis, and it takes about 20 to 30 minutes per eye. Most often, people have one eye treated at a time. The surgery is usually done under local anesthesia, but general anesthesia can also be used in some cases.
Types of Lenses
Different types of intraocular lenses can be used during the surgery, such as these:
- Monofocal IOLs: These lenses provide clear vision at one distance, either far or near.
- Multifocal IOLs: These lenses offer clear vision at different distances, and they can reduce the need for glasses after the surgery.
- Toric IOLs: These lenses are specially designed for people with astigmatism.
Most often, only monofocal IOLs will be covered by insurance. Patients will have to pay the difference in cost for a premium lens, such as a multifocal IOL.
After the surgery, patients will be given post-operative instructions, including eye drops that need to be used for a few weeks. Some activities need to be avoided for a short period.
Recovery time can vary, but most patients can return to their normal activities within a week or two.
In some cases, other treatment methods, such as laser treatment or medication, may be used in combination with or as an alternative to cataract surgery for diabetic retinopathy. An eye doctor will evaluate your condition and recommend the best treatment for you based on your case.
Can You Prevent Diabetic Cataracts?
While it is not possible to completely prevent the formation of diabetic cataracts, individuals with diabetes may be able to lower their risk of developing diabetic cataracts by properly managing their blood sugar levels. This involves regularly monitoring blood sugar and taking diabetes medications as prescribed.
Other preventative measures that may help to lower the risk of diabetic cataracts include controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, quitting smoking if applicable, eating a healthy diet, regularly exercising, and scheduling eye exams often.
By following these steps, individuals with diabetes can help to prevent or slow the onset of diabetic cataracts. It is important to consult with a health care professional to evaluate the best options to manage diabetes and keep your eyes healthy.
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Cataracts and Their Treatment in People With Diabetes. (May 2019). Clinical Compendia.
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Last Updated February 2, 2023
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