Vision Facts for Children With Diabetes

Diabetes and Your Child's Eyes

Diabetes mellitus (mel-i-tuhs) is a disorder caused by a decreased production of insulin or by the body’s inability to use insulin. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and is necessary for the body’s control of blood sugar. Fluctuations in blood sugar can be harmful to the body, including the eyes.

Type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes) can occur at any age, but most commonly is diagnosed from infancy to the late 30s. In this type of diabetes, a person's pancreas produces little or no insulin.

Children with diabetes are at risk of developing eye disease that can affect their vision. Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye problems that affects those with diabetes.

Diabetic eye disease may include:

  • Diabetic retinopathy (ret-in-AHP-uh-thee) A potentially blinding condition in which the blood vessels inside the retina become damaged from the high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes. This leads to the leakage of fluids into the retina and the obstruction of blood flow. Both may cause vision loss.

    Diabetic retinopathy is the most common and most serious eye-related complication of diabetes. It is a progressive disease that destroys small blood vessels in the retina, eventually causing vision problems. In its most advanced form (known as “proliferative retinopathy”) it can cause blindness. Nearly all people with juvenile (type 1) diabetes show some symptoms of diabetic retinopathy usually after about 20 years of living with diabetes; approximately 20 to 30 percent of them developed the advanced form. Those with type 2 diabetes are also at increased risk.

  • Cataract (kat-uh-rakt) A clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. It can be compared to a window that is frosted or yellowed.

    Cataract may occur at a younger age in diabetic patients.

  • Glaucoma (glaw-KOH-muh) A disease of the optic nerve — the part of the eye that carries the images we see to the brain. The optic nerve is made up of many nerve fibers, like an electric cable containing numerous wires. When damage to the optic nerve fibers occurs, blind spots develop. These blind spots usually go undetected until the optic nerve is significantly damaged. If the entire nerve is destroyed, blindness results.

    The chances of developing glaucoma are doubled in diabetic patients.

Warning Signs

Since diabetes can be harmful to the eyes, parents should be aware of the following signs and symptoms of the disease:

  • Blurred vision
  • Extreme hunger accompanied by weight loss
  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of feeling or tingles in the extremities (hands and feet)

Other symptoms may include:

  • Frequent infections of the bladder, skin, or gums
  • Dry mouth
  • Slow healing of cuts and scrapes
  • Excessive or unusual infections

If you suspect your child might have diabetes, please contact your family doctor as soon as possible.

Taking Care of Your Child’s Sight

Diabetic eye disease can usually be controlled and permanent vision loss can be prevented through a combination of early detection, treatment, and good control of diabetes.

childrenWithDiabetesGraphic.gifIf your child is diagnosed with diabetes, schedule a complete eye examination with your eye doctor as soon as possible and at least once a year thereafter. Your eye doctor will recommend more frequent eye examinations if indicated by the presence of abnormalities.

This document is provided for informational purposes only. Please consult an eye care professional about symptoms that may require medical attention and may or may not be covered by your medical plan and/or routine vision plan.

Sources: American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) –
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International –