Diabetes and Your Eyes – One Reason to Eat Smart

File this under “Things You Should Know.”

About 6 months ago, I started to work as an assistant for an eye doctor on the weekends. As a PhD student, I still find I need to pay the bills. I thought I could use a bit of my health background in helping patients to fit their contacts, explaining the importance of hygiene, and telling them how to keep from getting a stye.

Part of my duties is taking patient medical histories and then performing the various pre-exam tests such as color perception, depth perception, vision test, etc. But it also included retinal photos and checking intraocular pressure (Yes, the dreader “poofer” machine!)

It did not take long for me to realize how important my background was going to be in this role. Soon I was seeing many patients each day and gathering very lengthy medical histories to includes lists of diseases, surgeries, and medications. Specifically with our diabetic patients, we had to make sure we were being very thorough.

Below is a retinal photo of a normal eye.

normal eye

Pretty isn’t it? You can see it looks clear with healthy blood vessels branching out from the optic nerve and feeding oxygen to all of the parts of the eye. The dark part in the middle is the macula.

Whenever I show someone their photos, they are amazed at how much is really going on in the eye. We just take for granted that they work and that’s about it. Those tiny blood vessels are the smallest blood vessels in the whole body so the eye doctor can see things like hypertension or diabetes in your eyes sometimes even before you are diagnosed by your primary care physician.

Below are the photos that I don’t want to show to patients. As soon as it pops on the screen, I know it is not “normal” and I leave it to the doctor to explain what is going on. In the photo below on the left, this person has nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetes has a very negative effect on our blood vessels and keeps them from getting oxygen to all of the organs in our bodies. This includes the eyes. So you can see where some of the blood vessels have ruptured and are leaking, or they are bulging and causing swelling in the eye (which is why we use the “poofer” – to  make sure your pressure is normal).

diabetic retinopathyprolific diabetic retinopathy

In the photo to the right, this person has prolific diabetic retinopathy. It is a much more advanced case where they body is trying to create new blood vessels but they are weak and cannot function.

Many of us who are obese or overweight have heard all about diabetes. We know it can cause a myriad of problems like heart disease, amputations, and even blindness. But until you really see it with your own “eyes” as I have working in this environment, it takes a while to sink in. Unfortunately, the warnings are VERY real.

I was pre-diabetic and had borderline hypertension when I got this job. Now I am no longer pre-diabetic and my blood pressure was 117/75 at last check. Seeing what can really happen to my health has definitely been a huge motivating factor in the change in my diet and resulting weight loss.

If you are concerned about diabetes, have your eyes checked. If you have been experiencing blurry vision, have your eyes checked. Find a doctor that does more than the “here is your glasses prescription” exam. Tell them you want retinal photos (maybe $10 or $20). It is worth every penny. ~Amanda Rae

 The eyes are the window to your health – Unknown


  1. […] very real consequences of obesity. Working as an optometric assistant, I was seeing the effects of diabetes and high blood pressure every day. Taking patient medical histories as part of my job was very eye […]

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